- Press review: Iran, Russia accused of ‘meddling’ and Turkey’s Karabakh gamble irks Moscow
- Press review: NATO on guard over space threats and the ruble’s direction after US election
- 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
Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, September 25, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Lukashenko’s inauguration may re-ignite fierce demonstrations
After Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in as head of state in a hush-hush ceremony, members of the opposition vowed to hold a "people’s inauguration" of opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Experts quizzed by Izvestia point out that despite the mass unrest on September 23, it is too early to say that the protests have reached an acute phase. Meanwhile, the EU, Ukraine and the US officially declared that they do not recognize Lukashenko as president. However, this does not entail real sanctions that would directly impact the daily life of the country, political analysts suggest.
Political expert Yevgeny Preigerman told the paper that the statements made by EU members do not affect the situation in Belarus in any significant manner. What’s important is to understand what those statements could entail in practice, he added.
"The EU may continue to act in accordance with their refusal to recognize the government as legitimate. They may refuse to send ambassadors to Minsk or sign contracts with the current leadership of the country. Similar statements emanated after the outcomes of the 2010 election, however, the rhetoric was not as tough. EU members had minimized the contacts for several years, but, there were no legal repercussions from this move. Ambassadors were still working and agreements were being signed," he noted.
For his part, political analyst Vladimir Yevseev told Izvestia that protests in Belarus have a direct correlation with the economic situation in the country. If the leadership manages to prove that Russia’s recent loan of $1.5 bln can ensure economic growth, it might soothe the protesters somewhat.
RBC: Virologists assess risk of second COVID-19 wave in Russia
Russia documented over 6,500 daily cases of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on Thursday, with this figure growing for ten days running. Meanwhile, Moscow recorded over 1,000 daily cases for the first time since late June. On September 24, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin stated that the situation with the spread of COVID-19 in the Russian capital is becoming more difficult, with coronavirus-related hospitalizations on the rise. He called on Moscow residents to take care of their health and to heed doctors’ recommendations.
Experts quizzed by RBC have estimated the risk of the second wave of COVID-19 happening in Russia. Larisa Popovich, director of the Institute for Healthcare Economics of the Higher School of Economics (HSE), told RBC that COVID-19 waves should be assessed taking into account the ratio between those infected and those recovered. She noted that so far in Moscow, the number of those recovered surpasses the number of new cases, while in many other regions, like St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, the situation differs.
There is a rise in COVID-19 cases detected in Russia, however, this can hardly be called a second wave of the virus, Anatoly Altstein, a virologist, told RBC. He noted that the first wave of the infection had not ended in the country yet. "It [the infection rate] went down, however, there is a certain increase noted in Moscow, of about 1,000 people," Altstein said, adding that the epidemic is ongoing and that the public must be ready for it, adhering to preventive measures. "You know that the concept of "a second wave" is not very definitive. Supposedly, there should be an epidemic, then it should go down to zero, essentially, remain at that level, and then begin to rise again," he explained.
The expert pointed out that such a situation can be seen in Spain and Israel, where "the first wave went down and it stayed like this for a couple of months," and then the second wave begun. Meanwhile, in the US, the COVID-19 infection rate has remained constantly high, with a small decrease in new cases detected.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kavkaz-2020 drills launch new format of military cooperation
"The post-pandemic syndrome" that undermined the military capacity and the organizational capabilities of NATO has not affected Russia’s preparedness, which has been proven during the strategic command post drills "Kavkaz-2020", Ivan Konovalov, director for the Development of the Foundation for the Assistance of Technologies of the 21st Century, said in an op-ed published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
"Kavkaz-2020" set out its main goals as follows: checking the military preparedness of Russia’s Southern Military District on a tactical, operative and strategic level, as well as improving the compatibility and the level of cooperation between the armed forces and the military command, the expert informed. An important aspect of the drills was to improve cooperation with the armed forces of Russia’s partner states, namely on joint response to air attacks, reconnaissance and defense activity.
The drills are a multinational endeavor which includes up to 1,000 servicemen from Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan. Representatives from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka are participating as observers.
The exercise also became a platform for establishing a new format of cooperation between the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Konovalov pointed out that the West, which usually rings alarm bells throughout the media during any large-scale Russian drills, decided to show restraint this time, possibly realizing that the "panic approach" has outlived itself, and that new reasons must be found to continue the smear campaign against the "Russian threat."
For the Russian military leadership, "Kavkaz-2020" provides the information necessary to build new areas of the armed forces and fine-tune the existing ones, the expert pointed out. Meanwhile, Western military bodies see the drills as a cause for concern and badly hidden irritation by the unexpectedly high level of Russia’s military preparedness to hold large-scale military exercises after the coronavirus pandemic, he stressed. Konovalov added that the upcoming army training year is likely to irritate the West even more, with 5,000 exercises of various scales planned by Russia.
In this context, "Kavkaz-2020" will become an important event politically and militarily. Russia will try to use these opportunities to its best extent, taking into account the present situation. The scenario that Russia will select for its command drills is also significant, the expert concluded.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China to join construction of Moscow-Kazan highway
CRCCI, a Chinese corporation, signed a contract for the construction of a key Russian national highway connecting Moscow and Kazan, the Chinese press reported. Earlier, Beijing planned to construct a high-speed railway line to Europe through Russia, however, this project remains on paper so far, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.
China Railway Construction Corporation International (CRCCI) will be constructing the fifth section of the Moscow-Kazan freeway. The project is estimated at 58.3 bln rubles (approximately $757 mln). The highway will go through the Moscow, Vladimir and Nizhny Novgorod Regions.
The Moscow-Kazan freeway is a part of the Russian section of the international transport corridor from Europe to Western China. "After its opening, it will significantly decrease the time of land deliveries from China to Central Asia and Europe, and it will stimulate the economic development of countries located along the economic belt of the Silk Road," Chinese reporters point out.
Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta think that there is no need to worry about Russian-Chinese teamwork due to the new partnership project. The risks for all members of the project are minimal so far. A threat might potentially emerge outside of Russia, China and Kazakhstan.
"This transport project is way more important for China, so it has caused a bigger stir in the media," Ruslan Abramov, who heads the State and Municipal Management Department at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told the newspaper. "There are a lot of issues in our construction industry right now, and simply no one can build this section quickly," Ivan Andriyevsky, chairman of the board of directors of the 2K engineering company, said.
Kommersant: Oil demand may recover no earlier than 2023
The demand for oil, which dropped sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may recover no earlier than 2023, a study conducted by Argus Consulting suggests. In 2020, oil consumption is set to drop by 8.3 mln barrels a day, which constitutes about 8% of the 2019 level. According to experts, the OPEC+ deal on oil production cuts encourages market stabilization, but the potential second wave of COVID-19 may impede recovery. The majority of analysts have taken an optimistic stance, noting however that negative scenarios are possible, Kommersant reports.
The pre-crisis level of global oil demand can be reached no earlier than 2023, despite it rising by approximately two-thirds compared to a sharp drop in April, Argus Consulting informs. Experts estimate that this year, oil consumption will reach 92.3 mln barrels a day. More time may be required for a full recovery than expected due to reported second outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, the company notes.
If large-scale quarantine measures make a comeback, the OPEC+ deal may toughen its conditions, Vasily Tarnukov, an expert with ACRA rating agency, told the paper. However, a more likely scenario is that by the end of 2021, mass vaccination against COVID-19 will conclude, and oil demand may recover by 2022. Meanwhile, Sberbank Commodity Market Strategist Mikhail Sheibe points out that according to the bank’s base scenario, "the level of demand at 100 mln barrels a day may be reached by the second half of 2021." "We think that the possible further restrictions related to the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic would be much lighter than in the spring and that they would not lead to a second drop in demand, which in turn would entail that OPEC+ would not have an urgent need to go back on the current conditions of the deal," the expert stated.
In theory, oil demand may never surpass 100 mln barrels a day ever again, if the pandemic lasts a long time, Dmitry Marinchenko, an expert with Fitch, told Kommersant. A more likely scenario is that the demand will reach the pre-crisis levels by late 2021 and then will reach a peak in the next five-ten years, after which it will begin to go down due to the planned ban on the sale of cars with an internal combustion engine in Europe in 2030-2035. A lot will depend on the policy of the US and the outcomes of the upcoming presidential election, as Democrats pay more attention to environmental issues, he added.