Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, December 23, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia, EU continue to hurl sanctions at each other
Moscow’s new sanctions against certain EU individuals, which bar them from entering Russia, are a tit-for-tat response in the war of restrictions unleashed in the fall, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. Political scientists believe a further escalation of tensions is on the horizon.
On December 22, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on retaliatory measures in response to the European Union’s October sanctions against Russian individuals over the situation surrounding Alexey Navalny.
"The EU’s sanctions were not based on evidence and targeted high-ranking officials in charge of Russia’s domestic policy. That said, the EU actually claimed that the attempt to poison Navalny had been made on orders of the Kremlin. Russia then vowed that the move would not go unanswered. The measures announced by the Foreign Ministry are retaliatory in nature," said Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Suslov.
According to Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Ivan Timofeev, groundwork for the move was laid a while ago as the EU blacklist emerged back in October, but there are nuances to Russia’s measures. "Russia’s sanctions can be described as partially proportional. Moscow imposed restrictions on a number of EU individuals based on the principle of reciprocity but the thing to note is that they concern only visa matters, while the European Union also imposed financial sanctions," the expert pointed out.
Suslov, in turn, stressed that tensions could escalate further. In his view, the United States can also be expected to introduce sanctions related to the Navalny case. The Trump administration is currently focused on the vote recount but it may still address the matter. Alternatively, the incoming Biden administration will do it.
Kommersant: Navalny's video may provide grounds for criminal investigation, legal experts say
Lawyers believe that Alexey Navalny’s video of his phone call with a purported FSB officer concerning his alleged poisoning provides grounds for a criminal investigation, Kommersant writes.
Managing partner at Kocherin and Partners Vladislav Kocherin said that the audio recording "can be viewed as information from open sources" thus serving as grounds for a criminal case to be initiated. "It can also be added to the files of a probe that was conducted earlier and the decision not to launch criminal proceedings can be reversed in light of new information," he added.
Managing partner at the Yempp law firm Sergei Yegorov, however, does not consider the recording to be reason enough for a criminal investigation because it was obtained unlawfully. At the same time, he believes that there is a need to open a case based on prior circumstances and study the recording as part of the investigation.
Head of the Department of Criminal Procedure at Moscow State University's faculty of law Leonid Golovko, in turn, pointed out that any kind of information has to to undergo a legal analysis before any case is launched.
Head of the Civil Society Development Fund Konstantin Kostin is confident that the Russian authorities will act in accordance with the law rather than based on the current political climate. Particularly because the Navalny situation won’t have a significant impact on the 2021 parliamentary election as the large amount of his video views does not mean that voters will listen to his calls.
Izvestia: Armenian opposition determined to carry on with protests
Demonstrators have set up tents in front of the Government House in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Alen Simonyan, Vice President of the National Assembly (Armenia’s parliament) slammed the opposition’s demands as an attempt to usurp power but said that there were no plans to use force to disperse the protesters. Experts share the opinion that the demonstrators have become commonplace for Armenian society.
Member of the Dashnaktsutyun opposition party Armen Rustamyan told the newspaper that protests would continue into the New Year until Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan steps down.
According to Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan, the rallies haven’t yet reached a boiling point where the government can be overthrown. The scale of the demonstrations is not large enough at the moment since they involve up to 10,000 people, by comparison 200,000 to 300,000 participated in the 2018 protests, the expert noted. "However, I think that the opposition will be able to stabilize the protests soon. But the authorities won’t engage in talks with the demonstrators because they are sure that they will some how manage to remain in power," the political scientist said.
Political analyst Denis Denisov sees no reason for Pashinyan to resign in the near future, as well as for the protests, which have been solely political, to gain momentum and engulf the social agenda. As of now, the protesters are demanding that the authorities revise the agreements on Nagorno-Karabakh, the prime minister step down and martial law be lifted. "No severe crisis has broken out in the country despite the inflow of refugees from Karabakh, which is why the majority of people have come to view the protests as an acceptable and even commonplace thing," the expert emphasized.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ruble expected to undergo mutations next year
Stock markets did not take the news about the new coronavirus strain in the UK easily. The week began with a drop in oil prices, while the widening sanctions pressure exacerbated the situation for Russia. All of this has affected the exchange rate of the national currency. According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the ruble may nosedive in 2021 if matters continue to deteriorate, but vaccination offers hope that a new round of crisis can be prevented.
"If mass vaccination helps resolve the pandemic issue quickly, the dollar exchange rate may fall to the 70 ruble mark in the first six months of next year but the rate can later return to the 73 ruble per dollar level," said BCS investment expert Dmitry Babin. "A rise in oil prices could be crucial for the strengthening of the ruble, which will be facilitated by recovering demand and economic growth amid a decline in the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic," he added.
Uncertainty on global markets will remain until coronavirus vaccine developers prove that their vaccines are effective in the fight against the new strain of the virus, Finam analyst Anna Zaitseva pointed out.
"Meanwhile, this is not the first and certainly not the last mutation of the coronavirus. New strains emerged over the year but did not cause panic on the markets," the expert noted. "In this case, investors reacted negative largely because of tight restrictions," Zaitseva explained.
Izvestia: Pandemic boosts smartphone sales in Russia
The Russian smartphone market will hit a record turnover in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic and retail closure during the lockdown, Izvestia writes, citing mobile retailers. Sales are expected to reach about 32 mln devices by the end of the year, up six percent compared to 2019.
Russians have tended to purchase more expensive smartphones this year and the average purchase size has grown by nine percent to 17,700 rubles ($233), according to the MTS mobile operator. The rise was particularly driven by remote work and distant learning, said Svyaznoy Vice President for Procurement and Development Mikhail Dogadin.
According to MegaFon Retail Director General Andrei Levykin, customers prefer to purchase high-performance devices with large screens to work and study from home.
The amount of money Russians spend on smartphones keeps climbing and is expected to reach the highest level on record by the end of the year, Citilink Procurement Director Oleg Pchelnikov pointed out. Russians used to spend two percent of their yearly budget on cell phones but now that rate is three percent, he specified. People are spending the money they had saved for foreign trips, dining out and movie-going cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions, the expert explained.
The demand for electronic devices may continue to grow next year based on currency fluctuations, analysts say. However, according to a source close to one of the retailers, shortages of goods will persist at the beginning of the year due to logistics issues created by the coronavirus pandemic.