Press review: US blames pandemic on China and coronavirus deep-sixes NATO’s plans / News / News agency Inforos
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Press review: US blames pandemic on China and coronavirus deep-sixes NATO’s plans

Press review: US blames pandemic on China and coronavirus deep-sixes NATO’s plans

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 3, prepared by TASS

Izvestia: Battle against COVID-19 to save lives, but economy to suffer

The coronavirus non-working holiday in Russia will be extended until April 30, President Vladimir Putin announced in his second pandemic-related address to the nation. Experts say that the fight against the virus may lead to a ten-percent drop in the country’s GDP, but the enforced vacation extension will help control the spread of COVID-19, Izvestia writes.

"It is hard to say at the moment if we will be able to break the chain of infections by extending the non-working period. Those who contracted the virus before the lockdown may emerge over this time," said Alexander Lukashev, Director of First Moscow State Medical University’s Martsinovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector Borne Diseases.

"It won’t be possible to cut all contacts between people because there are businesses and organizations that cannot suspend their activities, including medical facilities," Anna Oreshkova, an infectious disease doctor, explained. However, in her words, these measures are necessary because the healthcare system could explode if everyone fell ill simultaneously.

Experts need to analyze trends in order to figure out if the virus spread is declining, Virology Professor at Moscow State University’s Department of Biology Alexei Agranovsky pointed out. According to him, conclusions and forecasts should by no means be made after only a few days of observation.

Meanwhile, the economy is estimated to lose nearly one trillion rubles ($13 bln) following the first week-off, said Pavel Sigal, First Vice President of the Opora Rossii organization. In his view, it is the small and mid-sized businesses that will suffer the most, which means that 50-70% of them will have to shut down. This will primarily concern catering and other services, along with non-food retail. Three to four million businesses may close, leaving 8 mln-12 mln people without jobs, he added.

Russia’s GDP may plunge by at least ten percent in 2020, says Igor Nikolayev, Director of the FBK Grant Thornton Strategic Analysis Institute. According to him, in the face of great uncertainty, it is hard to tell how the economic situation will develop.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington blames pandemic on Beijing

Beijing hid the scope of the coronavirus outbreak in China and downplayed the death toll, depriving the world of the opportunity to promptly take protective measures, an intelligence report handed to the White House says. According to experts, recent data on the number of infections and deaths in the United States has made it clear that the coronavirus pandemic has affected the country more than China, which is making Washington step up its propaganda war, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Meanwhile, according to the Western media, Chinese diplomats are not going to avoid harsh rhetoric in debates with foreign opponents after China’s leader Xi Jinping had ordered them to show more fighting spirit. There is a widespread perception among common people in China that America seeks to prevent their country’s power from growing. So when diplomats rebuke the US over issues such as the coronavirus and the Hong Kong protests, it resonates with the Chinese.

Vladimir Batyuk, Chief Research Associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the US and Canadian Studies, believes that Washington’s information blitz against Beijing is directly linked to the American presidential election campaign. "The coronavirus has smashed it all. Until recently, few doubted that Donald Trump would be the triumphant one. But the epidemic has put him in a zugzwang position, where, like in the game of chess, every next move makes things worse. If Trump continues to combat the virus, the most populous regions of the US will have to face a lockdown, which will deal a harsh blow to the economy. In the situation of an economic crisis, the incumbent president will have slim chances of being re-elected.

There is also another option. Trump can say that the country has enough of lockdown and needs to get back to work. He already said that on March 24 but he had to take his words back later because leaving the epidemic uncontained would have had terrible consequences and it would have also undermined his chances for re-election. This is why an attempt to blame China or someone else looks completely understandable since it fits in with the logic of the election race, the expert emphasized.

Izvestia: NATO struggles to adapt to pandemic

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has succeeded in adapting to the climate created by the coronavirus pandemic and continues efforts to ensure security, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said following a videoconference of NATO foreign ministers. Experts interviewed by Izvestia point out that the statement is nothing but an attempt to make an appearance amid the pandemic.

It’s not entirely correct to say that the coronavirus has not affected NATO’s activities. In March, the alliance had to reconsider the agenda of the Defender 2020 military exercise, which was expected to become its biggest post-Cold-War military game in Europe.

"NATO remains first and foremost a military and political bloc, which seeks to accomplish strategic tasks though strengthening its military presence. The alliance’s expansion is part of that line," said Elena Ponomareva, a professor from the Department of Comparative Political Science at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. "The alliance could be more active in the situation of an epidemiological disaster, but it does not have a humanitarian aspect," she added.

When global healthcare issues take center stage, the need arises to redistribute funds, thereby reducing defense spending, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov pointed out.

"The public’s attention has shifted to more important security challenges. Voters in both Europe and the US are inevitably starting to ask: why spend so much money on NATO, when there is the coronavirus threat?" the expert concluded. "NATO officials are showing off their activities in a bid to reaffirm financial and political priorities that the West had established in recent years," Kortunov explained.

Kommersant: Donbass republics accuse Kiev of disrupting prisoner exchange

Officials in the self-proclaimed Donbass republics have published lists of prisoners they were ready to hand over to Kiev in exchange for their detainees. The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR, LPR) accuse Kiev and Ukrainian President Zelensky’s chief of staff Andrei Yermak, personally, of undermining the prisoner swap plans. The publication of the prisoner lists is aimed at putting pressure on the Ukrainian authorities who have recently abandoned some provisional agreements, Kommersant wrote.

Talks on prisoner swaps between Kiev and Moscow, as well as between Kiev and the Donbass republics, have always been uneasy but successful as a rule. However, neither of the parties have published prisoner lists before to shame the other side and force it to make concessions.

It’s unlikely that the Donbass republics decided to make such a move without consulting Russia. Following the March 26 videoconference, Moscow made it clear that it was frustrated by changes in Kiev’s position on previously agreed on decisions.

Senior Researcher at the Russian State University for the Humanities’ Department of Post-Soviet Countries Alexander Gushchin pointed out that DPR and LPR officials want to put the spotlight on the Ukrainian leadership’s unwillingness to take crucial steps to achieve peace in Donbass.

"Until recently, Andrei Yermak kept saying that elections in Donbass might take place in the fall, at the same time as local Ukrainian elections, but now when plans to create an advisory council and carry out a prisoner exchange have failed, it seems not just unlikely but absolutely impossible," the expert told the newspaper. "The publication of the prisoner lists will not necessarily produce a serious backlash over the situation. However, it is another effort [by the Donbass republics] to reaffirm their identity and point to Kiev’s weakness as Ukraine is entering another stage of its struggle for political survival," Gushchin emphasized.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Vendors giving away flowers on Moscow streets

Floral vendors have started to give away roses and tulips on Moscow’s streets. Flower shops closed in accordance with the mayor’s decree and are unable to sell their remaining flowers. Instead of tossing them in the trash, vendors are trying to make women happier amid the current lockdown, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports.

The flower giveaway is an act of charity and also a move to bid farewell to small businesses that took an incredible amount of effort, time and money to build.

"It is a common situation these days because many businesses — us included  — are just giving away flowers," businessman Alexei Zhilokov said. "We are donating them to hospitals, churches and charity organizations," he added.

According to the newspaper’s correspondent, some florists have launched delivery services and are now selling the remaining flowers at a discount of 30-50%.

"Once it is all over, many shops will not reopen," Zhilokov pointed out. According to him, rental payments are the main problem. Many landlords are unwilling to make concessions and want their money regardless of virus outbreaks and natural disasters. Besides, there are loans and employee wages to pay. Given the lockdown, businesses just can’t afford it all, Zhilokov explained.

The National Flower Growers' Association, in turn, believes that it is high time for the government to support local producers. "Italian flower growers have already asked the government to offset their losses," the association's head Alexei Antipov noted. "We would also like to ask for support," he added.

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