Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, January 25th, prepared by TASS
Media: Experts weigh in on the January 23 unsanctioned protests across Russia
The January 23 unsanctioned Navalny rallies ended in a record number of arrests. According to human rights organizations, over 3,600 people have been detained. Some have been charged with administrative violations, while others have been hit with criminal charges. Nevertheless, Navalny supporters vow to carry on the protests. The opposition is confident that in the run-up to the Russian State Duma elections planned for the fall, protest activity will mount, but experts do not tend to overestimate the way demonstrations could affect the election campaign, Kommersant reports.
Saturday's unsanctioned Navalny rallies were held in at least 125 Russian cities. It ended up being impossible to calculate the exact numbers of protesters even in Moscow. Ivan Zhdanov, who heads the Navalny-run Anti-Corruption Fund, told the media that over 50,000 people had taken to Moscow’s streets. The White Counter project, which usually tallies up the number of people attending demonstrations in Russia, stated that it was not involved in estimating the protest numbers this time, however, its coordinator Dmitry Nesterov said that in his personal opinion, over 20,000 people attended the protests in the capital. As of 14:30 January 23, the Moscow police reported that 4,000 people had taken to the streets.
Medical experts fear that a wave of protests could cause an increase in the COVID-19 infection rate, Izvestia notes. Olga Sharapova, chief medical officer of the Vinogradov City Clinical Hospital, told Izvestia that the anti-coronavirus measures are still in full force in Moscow. "Hospital beds did not suddenly become empty. If we don’t adhere to the stipulated measures, the restrictions may return," she told Izvestia.
Representatives of the non-parliamentary opposition who took part in Saturday protests do not consider them enough to change the situation. Deputy chief of the Yabloko party’s Moscow department Andrey Morev said that the main thing about the rallies was that they spread from the Far East to Kaliningrad, which shows that Russians "are clearly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs," Kommersant reports. Morev noted that the rallies are unlikely to change the situation with Navalny’s detention. "So far, it’s a draw: the government is thinking about the ways to quell the protests, while civil society is licking its wounds, wondering about its next step." The opposition politician thinks that by the time of State Duma election, protests will surge, and the number of opposition supporters will rise.
Political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov told Kommersant that on the whole, the January 23 rallies were similar to the 2017 protests. "The considerable regional spread, powerful emotional outburst, flashy anti-government memes, and clashes with law enforcement. However, the protesters have no understanding on how to transform their emotional outburst into a political upshot. So far, there is no strategy, even if there are regular events, there is a risk that the results won’t be any more significant than in Khabarovsk or Minsk." A key feature of turbulent times in Russia would be a rift among the elite, but, there are no signs of it now, the expert noted. “However, we cannot say that the elites took consolidated or even well-thought-out action last week,” he pointed out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China seeks to patch up relations with US
Beijing wants to clear away the negative atmosphere in US-Chinese relations, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. "Let the good angel come back to bless bilateral ties," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said earlier commenting on Biden’s inauguration, according to the Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper. Yang Jiechi, a high-ranking Chinese politician and diplomat and a member of the Politburo, is being considered for the role of "the good angel," with Beijing planning to send him to Washington. The visit is allegedly being put together by the Chinese Embassy in the US via unofficial channels. Beijing hopes to reboot ties with America, including on climate change and the fight against COVID-19 topping that agenda. US media that reported on China’s initiative are citing sources in the Biden administration, however, Chinese diplomats deny that they had made such an offer.
China intends to offer cooperation between Beijing and Washington in hammering out vaccine protocols. This will simplify mutual trips between China and the United States. Another subject of discussion could be the joint distribution of vaccines to developing countries. However, this may pose a risk to the US, the newspaper notes, as this cooperation could legitimize Chinese vaccines, that were earlier criticized due to the fact that their development lacked transparency.
So far, the White House has not expressed any desire to meet with the high-ranking Chinese official, and a summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping seems unlikely at this point. Biden stated earlier that he would first meet with US allies to discuss his policy on China.
Director of the Institute of the Far East at the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexey Maslov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: "All serious talks between China and the US began with such closed exchanges. This is how the meeting between Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon was organized. China wants to discuss the issue of economic sanctions and the partial lifting of barriers for the delivery of American products to Chinese tech companies. In exchange, China is probably ready to provide benefits for American companies on the Chinese market. If such an option is possible, then China will be ready for official talks. On the whole, China wants to find out how the Biden administration will act in relation to it. However, it should be noted that this leak could only have come from the Americans. They want to show that China is in dire need of America."
Izvestia: Bitcoin nosedives after reaching record highs
Bitcoin plummeted by 17% on January 21, falling below the $30,000 mark. Although the cryptocurrency’s volatility has become a regular occurrence, this was the sharpest drop since March 2020. So far, it is hard to say whether Bitcoin had reached its limit for the long term. Neverthelss, experts quizzed by Izvestia suggest that in time, it will inevitably lose its status of a "safe haven" protecting against the stock market's fluctuations.
Bitcoin showed an impressive rise last year, it soared from $9,000 to over $30,000, and after the New Year, its price surpassed $40,000. The influx of investors wishing to protect and increase their revenue given the unprecedented surge in money printing both in the US and many other countries is considered the main factor behind such a renaissance.
Last week, this persistent rise was followed by a plunge, and by Thursday, Bitcoin crashed below $30,000. This was the sharpest decline in the past nine months. This drop affected practically all cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum, which nearly tripled earlier. Later, Bitcoin managed to stabilize at around $32,000-33,000, which is quite far from its all-time high. Overall, some $200 bln in capitalization fell victim to the cryptocurrency’s correction.
Some experts think that Bitcoin might be worse off in the long run even than the overblown assets of the traditional stock market. Finam analyst Alexey Korenev told Izvestia that Bitcoin is highly volatile due to the fact that there is nothing to back it up. "It swings back and forth, from $9,000 to $40,000, and then drops lower than $30,000. There are no significant factors behind these Bitcoin fluctuations. This is purely a speculative movement that in no way depends on the situation in global or national economies. The price is pushed by investors with a large share in Bitcoin who have this opportunity," he noted.
The expert told Izvestia that investing in Bitcoin is too risky at this point to be taken seriously. Only those with money to spare can consider investing a small part of their portfolio in cryptocurrency.
"You can gain a lot (if, as promised, Bitcoin rises to $150,000 or higher), but you can also lose everything if it drops to zero. When cryptocurrencies will be reinforced by something and the corresponding legislation is established, such investments can be taken seriously, he added.
Kommersant: Investment in Russian bond market hits two-year high
Global investors are raising their stakes on the Russian bond market to the highest in the past two years, Kommersant reports. Last week, they invested $170 mln into this market, and over $320 mln since the start of 2021. Non-residents are buying Russian debt securities despite a rise in political risks, since there is a deficit of profitable and reliable bonds on the global market.
Kommersant estimated, according to a BCS Global Markets report, based on the data of Emerging Portfolio Fund Research (EPFR) that in the week that ended on January 20, over $170 mln had been invested in Russian bonds, which is twice as high as the week before and the highest weekly figure since February 2019. The steady influx of investments into Russian assets has continued for 28 weeks straight, and in this time, over $2.6 bln in total.
However, the data provided by the EPFR in relation to Russian bonds does not reflect the recent decision by US President Joe Biden directing American intelligence to analyze the cyberattack on Solar Wind, over the alleged meddling of Russia in the US election. Besides, the alleged use of an alleged chemical agent against Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny is also planned to be looked into.
Nevertheless, this is unlikely to affect the interest of global investors in Russian bonds, experts suggest. Portfolio Manager at General Invest Aleksey Gubin told Kommersant that the stock market is likely to suffer more due to potential risks than short-term bonds.
Izvestia: Members of dating services use COVID-19 vaccination to attract potential partners
An increase in COVID-19 vaccine allusions has been recorded on US dating services, Izvestia reports. Users state in their profiles that they have been inoculated with the vaccine or have COVID-19 antibodies in an attempt to seem more attractive to potential partners and make them more amenable to meeting in person, experts suggest. Some Russian dating services have noted the same trend, which is expected to become more common by the spring. However, researchers warn that even those who got the COVID-19 vaccine should exercise caution when going on dates.
Since November 2020, the number of vaccine references on Tinder profiles in the US has skyrocketed 238%, the dating service informs. Meanwhile, another popular dating app Bumble also noted an increase in users who mention the words "vaccine" or "vaccinated" in their profiles. Meanwhile, Russian representatives of these dating services were unable to provide a comment to Izvestia when asked about the number of references to vaccines or antibodies on Russian profiles.
CEO of the Russia-based Mamba dating service Yaroslav Sergeev told the paper that as of January 15, several thousand users mentioned the vaccine or antibodies on their profiles, which is an extremely low figure considering that up to 40,000 users join the dating app every day. However, these numbers may be the beginning of a trend, which will become clearer as more people get vaccinated, he added.
A person who was vaccinated against COVID-19 is absolutely safe to communicate with, Maria Vedunova, who heads the Institute of Biology and Biomedicine at Lobachevsky University, told Izvestia. However, one shouldn’t rush to go on dates immediately after getting the vaccine, she warned. "It is likely that a non-vaccinated person can pose a threat to the vaccinated person. The vaccine causes a powerful reaction of the immune system, and it weakens for a while. So, it is very important to take care of oneself after vaccination and avoid new contacts for as long as possible," the expert stated, adding that this period lasts for about three weeks.