- Press review: What to expect from Putin’s annual address and NATO boosts eastern presence
- Press review: Why the Czech standoff with Moscow and Russia-West strife heats up Black Sea
- Press review: Diplomatic purges escalate and assassination plot draws Minsk, Moscow closer
- Press review: How Biden’s sanctions impact Russia and what looms on Russia-Ukraine border
Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 2, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Pashinyan offers referendum, snap parliamentary elections as protests rage on in Armenia
Supporters and opponents of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan nearly clashed in Yerevan on March 1 during rallies. Tensions ran high, but the situation did not descend into violence. Meanwhile, the premier apologized for his mistakes and announced a referendum in October, where the country will have to decide whether it will continue to be a parliamentary system or become a semi-presidential one. In addition, he called for early parliamentary elections. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the proposed measures nay help diffuse the situation in the country.
Pashinyan began the rally with an apology, and later confirmed his intention to dismiss Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan. The PM also said that in October 2021, a nationwide referendum will be held on changing the constitution and returning a semi-presidential form of government.
Armenian political scientist Johnny Melikyan explained to Izvestia that under certain conditions, a referendum may stabilize the situation in the country, however, Armenian society might be too polarized. "In any case, the parliamentary model was initially not very suitable for Armenia," he told the newspaper. "Over the past three years, Armenian society has seen many crises, which were unquestionably caused by the parliamentary model," the expert added.
Besides the referendum, the prime minister also announced that he was ready to hold early parliamentary elections, but he hasn’t set the date so far. The leaders of the opposition have repeatedly stated that they would not agree to an early vote on the prime minister’s terms. "Our condition is that Pashinyan leaves, and in the run-up period to the elections a provisional government headed by Vazgen Manukyan, who has no political ambitions, will fill the vaccum," ex-Minister of Agriculture of Armenia and member of the Dashnaktsutyun party Artur Khachatryan explained to Izvestia.
Kommersant: Russia may slap Twitter with fine
Twitter can be fined 13.5 bln rubles ($181.27 mln) for refusing to remove tweets containing prohibited material in Russia. Initially, the nation’s media watchdog threatened the social network with a heavy fine. According to the department, since 2017, they have sent more than 28,000 requests to Twitter’s headquarters to remove materials with information proscribed in Russia. However, the tech giant left around 3,000 requests unanswered. Experts told Kommersant, that Russia has little sway over Twitter, but the social network might pay the fines anyway, since it would be easier than changing its policies.
Twitter deletes material that violates not Russian legislation but rather US laws, head of the Community Laboratory Vladislav Titov told Kommersant. "Demanding the law be implemented is just not enough, you need to have leverage for this, at least an official representation of the company in your country, and some levers of influence, for example, on advertising flows," he said.
The social network was already fined 4 mln rubles ($53,711) for refusing to localize the data of Russians. However, according to media reports, Twitter never paid the fine.
Now the reaction of the social network may change, managing partner of the Digital Rights Center law firm Sarkis Darbinyan told Kommersant. "Even if the decision comes into force and Twitter is penalized with a fine, it is almost impossible to enforce it, because the tech titan has neither assets nor accounts, nor employees in Russia. On the other hand, we see that Twitter and other US companies pay these fines, take for instance, Facebook or TikTok. That is, it is easier for them to pay than to argue, and to change their policies," the expert believes. According to him, the only real leverage against this tech giant would be to restrict access to it, but then a decision like this would be mostly political and would need to be made by the presidential administration.
Vedomosti: Finland, Baltic states to ramp up consumption of Russian electricity
Inter RAO Group, Russia’s energy export-import operator, plans to boost its supply of electricity abroad by 25% more than last year, that is, up to 15 bln kWh this year. The major drivers of this growth will be Finland and the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), Inter RAO told Vedomosti. According to experts, there is no alternative to cheap Russian energy yet.
Finland wants to completely eliminate electricity imports by 2030 by accelerating its transition to green energy. However, in the very near future, the country will only increase its consumption of Russian electricity, Inter RAO said. Thus, in 2021, the share of supplies to Finland from Russia will climb from 22% to 27%. The Finns have technical capabilities to get deliveries from Poland and Sweden, Associate Director at KPMG Sergey Rozhenko told Vedomosti, but he noted that this would cost significantly more.
Deliveries to Finland and the Baltic states, according to Rozhenko, benefit both parties. The Finns receive relatively cheap energy with the cost of purchasing from the Russian wholesale energy market (outside peak load hours) at 25-30 euro per 1,000 kWh, while prices at Nord Pool - the Scandinavian power market - are about 40 euro, and the exporter receives additional revenue.
In addition to Finland and the Baltics, there are opportunities for electricity exports to the South Caucasus, Rozhenko added. "Azerbaijan is building roughly 440-500 MW of green generation, and Georgia’s hydroelectric power stations are expected to be loaded mainly in spring and autumn. Therefore, the region will have a high demand for seasonal purchases and sale of electricity, which creates potential sources of income for Inter RAO," he noted. At the same time, supplies to China will remain stable in the coming years.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy sentenced for corruption
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison with a one-year probationary period for corruption and influence peddling for promising now-retired magistrate Gilbert Azibert, a position in exchange for information on another case. Azibert and Sarkozy's lawyer Thierry Herzog received similar sentences for divulging professional secrets. According to experts interviewed Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the case could harm the entire French Les Republicains party.
The verdict against the former French president is remarkable but not unprecedented, the newspaper writes. The late Jacques Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence for creating fictitious jobs in Paris.
From the beginning of the Sarkozy case, questions immediately arose about its possible politicization, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. This was due to the fact that the Les Republicains party does not have a charismatic figure to nominate a presidential candidate in the 2022 elections. According to the newspaper, "Sarkozy has made it clear several times that he does not seek to return to politics, but in such a deplorable situation, the Les Republicains party could ask him for help."
"The verdict is in some sense beneficial to Emmanuel Macron, but it is difficult to discern him and someone else's malicious intent, given the good relations between Elysee Palace and Sarkozy, and also the fact that Macron will most likely be re-elected, since Marine le Pen will not be able to be his rival. However, if Sarkozy still had political ambitions, now, perhaps, he can definitely give them up. In general, there is no need to talk about the politicization of the case," Sergey Fedorov, an expert at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the newspaper. The commentator noted that the verdict is not only a personal blow to Sarkozy, but also to the entire Les Republicains party.
Izvestia: Oil prices may soar to $100
Bank of America expects oil prices to rise at the fastest pace since the 1970s. Although the average price will fluctuate within the $50-70 range, at certain times it will reach the $100 mark. Several other analysts made similar predictions. Brent may reach $70 in the Q2 2021. Analysts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the deal with Iran, which could free up millions of barrels a day for the world market, could be the only significant risk to oil prices.
One of the main reasons for the surge in oil prices was the impressive growth in demand against the backdrop of rising GDP in China, as well as the US fiscal stimulus of $1.9 trillion, and an extremely cautious policy of US shale oil producers.
Analyst at VYGON Consulting Ivan Timonin told Izvestia, the short-term forecast looks very convincing, but $100 per barrel is still very optimistic and is unlikely to be reached within the next few years. "Recovery will happen not only on the demand side, but also on the supply side: in accordance with current expectations against 2020, global consumption of liquid hydrocarbons will grow by 5.4 mln barrels per day in 2021," he said.
"Bank of America forecasts are based on the assumptions that the supply recovery lags behind the demand growth rate, in particular, due to production restrictions in the OPEC+ countries, which will not necessarily be implemented," said Finam Group analyst Anna Zaitseva.
In any case, the current prices benefit Russia. Moreover, they could be even more than the government needs - $50 per barrel is enough to balance the budget - which is why Russia is lobbying for a more aggressive increase in output within OPEC+. According to Zaitseva, this would mean there is a real chance of doubling oil and gas revenues.