- Press review: Turkey aims to return to F-35 program and US bid to make G7 anti-China fails
- State Department undermines competition with statements on Nord Stream 2
- Venezuelan Parliament demands expulsion of EU envoy in response to sanctions
- Press review: Facebook bans news sharing in Australia and Biden makes concessions to Iran
Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, January 18th, prepared by TASS
Media: Navalny detained on arrival in Moscow
Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny was detained on January 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where he arrived from Berlin after receiving treatment due to his alleged poisoning in August 2020. According to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, Navalny was taken into custody for repeated violations of his probation in relation to the Yves Rocher case.
Breaches of the probation period happen quite often, legal expert Sergei Maximov told Izvestia. It can have rather serious consequences for Navalny, he stressed. He noted that a convict may be placed into custody if the crime is considered grave or if it is a particularly serious felony, and this decision is taken by the court within several days, usually within 48 hours.
President of the Russian Association of Political Consultants Alexei Kurtov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: "One thing is obvious: through its actions, the Russian government branded Navalny a rather important political player, and large-scale measures have been taken on his arrival. Regardless of who is behind such decisions, in any case, this is not in the jurisdiction of local officials, it is clear that it was decided at a higher level." The expert could not delve into the motives of the law enforcement and the government.
Meanwhile, Kurtov doubted that Navalny’s detention will help him gain more supporters. "Even if the number of Navalny sympathizers grows by 5,000 people who witnessed his arrival, this won’t have any effect on the millions of people in the country. So far, we didn’t see half the city taking to the streets to protest the government’s actions. Moreover, many of those who witnessed his arrival support the opposition anyway, they are more or less used to what happened. Have opposition events ever gone differently? People are always taken into custody and roads are always blocked. So, this symbolic meeting of the opposition leader arriving from abroad could not have gone any differently," he stressed.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Biden plans to renew talks over New START with Russia
The current situation in the sphere of nuclear disarmament is the worst since the non-proliferation regime’s establishment over 50 years ago that was initiated by Moscow and Washington, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. It is unlikely that the incoming Biden administration will get rid of all the obstacles in the way of cooperation with Russia in the sphere of arms control and non-proliferation. The mutual mistrust is too great to quickly iron out the current situation. However, there is a chance that by late January, a more favorable atmosphere for constructive efforts can be established.
The first opportunity of this kind arises due to the looming expiration date of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on February 5, 2021, which calls for urgent measures to prolong it. Moscow has repeatedly urged Washington not to delay extending the treaty, which it describes as the golden standard for disarmament. In an interview with the Financial Times in June 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that should the New START Treaty cease to exist, "then there would be no instrument in the world to curtail the arms race."
US President-elect Joe Biden, whose inauguration is set for January 20, has already said that he would greenlight a quick prolongation of New START for a short-term period to begin more substantive talks with Moscow on strategic stability. According to CNN’s sources, Biden believes it is important to extend the New START deal and to use it as a basis for new agreements on arms control.
Alexei Arbatov, who heads the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the treaty is likely to be prolonged, however, several details need to be cleared up beforehand, namely which Russian systems should be included in it. Moscow agreed that its state-of-the-art Avangard missile system should be included in the treaty. The same can be applied to the Sarmat super-heavy ICBM that is set to be commissioned soon.
However, there may be legal difficulties, Arbatov told the paper. If New START expires without being prolonged, the situation may be quite concerning, as the talks on a new treaty have not started yet. However, this situation may be resolved legally and politically, if there is good will from both sides. There may be a joint declaration that the parties won’t violate the treaty’s provisions until it is formally extended. It is not stipulated anywhere that the pact should be prolonged the moment it expires.
Kommersant: Russia launches mass vaccination against COVID-19
Starting Monday, Russia is launching a mass vaccination drive of the population against COVID-19 by order of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that the number of those wishing to get the vaccine in the Russian capital had tripled in the past month. Experts quizzed by Kommersant note that the older generation of Russians are more likely to agree to be inoculated with the vaccine, however, there is no significant enthusiasm recorded among other age groups.
Alexei Firsov, who heads the Platforma social design center, told the paper that people who were vaccinated in December "felt like pioneers," and as no negative side effects were recorded, a "positive wave" was documented. "However, if we estimate the overall readiness of Russians for vaccination, it is not that high," he said. "The latest poll held by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center shows that 38% are willing to get vaccinated. If we compare it to the global situation, this figure is at the same level as France, but it is lower than in Germany, England or the US." The expert is confident that the vaccination campaign "is skimming off the top": those who have been ready for a while to receive the vaccine are now being inoculated.
According to Elena Agadullina, a psychologist and researcher at the Higher School of Economics, in Moscow, the positive experience of those who had already received the vaccine played an encouraging role, while in the regions, the opportunity for vaccination is lower due to a restricted number of doses. "As soon as the vaccination [drive] gains steam, people are going to be more willing to be inoculated," she predicts. "Another issue that after a certain period, there may be some pushback related to the fact that some negative experiences are inevitable among a huge number of cases."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Nord Stream 2’s prospects murky due to looming US sanctions
It is unlikely that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be finished by early 2021, as Russian President Vladimir Putin promised earlier. Pipelaying vessels have left the construction area, failing to provide a date for the resumption of the construction works. It seems that Russian officials have underestimated the technical difficulties and the effect of US sanctions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informs.
The launch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, initially planned for early 2020, was pushed back a year due to Washington’s sanctions. The construction works were set to conclude by the end of 2020 or by the first quarter of 2021, Putin said a year before during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, the sudden technical difficulties and the threat of new US sanctions in January 2021 have pushed back the pipeline’s construction indefinitely.
Director General of InfoTEK-Terminal Rustam Tankaev told the paper that the project was moved back due to the fact that Washington’s sanctions had a more significant effect than expected before. "There are no technical or infrastructure problems that would hinder the construction right now. The process is stalled due to permits that are not issued at government levels. The pullout of a Norwegian company that certifies pipelines and a Swiss insurance company does not block construction completely, but it hinders it. In late January-early February, new deals should be signed that will help conclude new agreements on certification and insurance," he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The expert was unable to say why Gazprom did not play it safe and did not have other companies ready to sign the deal. "There are a lot of companies involved in such activity in the world (pipeline certification and insurance), and one can find many companies unrelated to the US market, for example, in Asia. It is hard for me to say why Gazprom did not take parallel action during the first months when it became clear that [its] European partners may be hit by the sanctions and abandon the project," the expert said.
Izvestia: Russian law enforcement thwarts nearly 20 juvenile-plotted attacks on schools a year
Russian law enforcement foils up to 20 attacks on schools and other educational institutions planned by underage persons, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Elena Leonenko said in an interview with Izvestia.
"Up to 20 such cases are prevented a year. Some find a manual for creating explosives and study it, but don’t buy any available components. But there was an intent. We take into account such cases along with those who were already looking for a shotgun," Leonenko said in response to the newspaper’s question on the number of teenagers plotting violent attacks on schools.
Besides, she stressed that there are mechanisms for detecting such young people, and because of it, in the majority of cases, a potential crime is nipped in the bud. "Unfortunately, young people don’t always think that they will have to answer for their crimes," she added.
The official also pointed out that a special unit of the Investigative Committee has been active since 2013 monitoring the investigation of crimes committed against minors or by minors in Russia.