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Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, March 16, prepared by TASS
Vedomosti: Russian government drafts plan to support economy amid coronavirus spread
The government will come up with a plan to support Russia’s economy, which is expected to be approved this week, Vedomosti writes citing two federal officials. It provides for the creation of a fund of 300 bln rubles ($4.1 bln), tax breaks for businesses and paid sick leave for quarantined individuals.
The government suggests supporting businesses, regions and state-run companies, but taking care of the population is a top-priority issue. Plans are also in store to monitor the labor market situation in order to prevent any rise in unemployment.
To stop the spread of the epidemic, government officials propose providing the necessary materials for the production of test systems to detect the infection, the draft anti-crisis plan says. That’s the document’s core value, the paper quotes Alexandra Suslina of the Economic Expert Group as saying. Until a full-scale epidemiological assessment is carried out, all measures will be inaccurate and will not work to their fullest.
For his part, Professor of the New Economic School Oleg Shibanov described the proposed measures as useful and proportionate. He noted though that some of these steps, such as tax cuts, investment support measures and regional issues could not solve the problem quickly.
The attempt to help businesses and the public overcome the crisis will not compensate for all the losses, warned BCS Global Markets Chief Economist Vladimir Tikhomirov. If the situation evolves along the lines of a worst-case scenario, the government will have to come up with additional measures and earmark more funds. It may also have to cut costs to compensate for anti-crisis measures, he added.
Izvestia: Envoy praises Russia’s timely aid to China amid COVID-19 epidemic
Moscow has supplied Beijing with more than 2.2 mln protective medical kits during the novel coronavirus epidemic, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui told Izvestia. The diplomat noted that Russia’s assistance to China was sincere, timely and comprehensive.
"First of all, President Vladimir Putin sent Chairman Xi Jinping a telegram expressing sympathy and also expressed public support for China on numerous occasions. The Russian government dispatched a military aircraft to transport medical face masks, gloves, safety glasses and materials with a volume of 23 tonnes, a total of 2,227,000 sets," he stressed.
"Many leading Russian media outlets have repeatedly published articles and reports expressing support for China in the fight against the epidemic. People from various walks of life recorded videos supporting China and Wuhan. That was very moving," he added.
Measures taken by China to contain the COVID-19 epidemic have yielded positive results, and control over the spread of the virus remains a major task for Beijing, the ambassador went on to say. He assured that the consequences of the novel coronavirus on the country’s economy will be short-lived, adding that it brought unexpected advantages to some industries, in particular, online sales, which are booming.
In addition, China is ready, together with all interested countries, to take all necessary preventive measures, and beef up control at checkpoints in order to protect the health and safety of peoples in all countries. "At the same time, China is ready to strengthen international anti-epidemic cooperation," he stressed.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ankara’s regional foes unite, edge towards Turkish borders
Egyptian authorities are trying to establish contacts between Damascus and Syrian Kurdish units, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes citing Arab media reports. According to the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, these mediatory efforts backed by the Persian Gulf’s key monarchies - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - who are Turkey’s main regional rivals, seek to counter Erdogan’s actions in northern Syria. Egypt plans to persuade the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multinational alliance based on the Kurdish people’s self-defense units, to foster dialogue with Damascus.
Earlier this year, UAE diplomats revved up contacts with Syrian government officials discussing options for rebuilding some of the country’s war-torn regions. Riyadh adheres to a more cautious approach towards Damascus’ "rehabilitation," but everything seems to suggest that it is not completely brushing the idea aside.
This approach is in line with the policy pursued by the Arab "trio" (the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt) with regard to Syria, Kirill Semenov, who heads the Center for Islamic Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "They would like to turn the SDF into an element of influence on Damascus and continue to use the alliance as a tool to counter Turkey. Therefore, they will continue to both boost the SDF’s military capacity and play the role of a mediator, probably hoping to turn it into an element of the Syrian armed forces that would depend on them. That would make it possible for the ‘trio’ to counter the expansion of Iran’s influence in Syria as well," he explained.
Izvestia: Online food sales in Russia soar amid coronavirus epidemic
Purchasing food online in Russia is gaining momentum against the backdrop of novel coronavirus spread. Food sales demonstrated the biggest growth in February, by almost 25% in monetary terms, Head of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) Trade Committee Alexei Fedorov informed Izvestia.
"Coronavirus has become another impetus for interest in purchasing food online, since many people are trying to avoid public places," he said.
For his part, Artem Sokolov, CEO of the Association of Internet Commerce Companies, told the paper that food sales were one of the fastest growing segments. It enables customers not to show up in crowded places and limit coming in contact with other people, he noted.
The press service of the OZON online shop confirmed to Izvestia that the company had recorded an increase in sales as well. "Apparently, many people are trying to limit the number of visits to public places, including shopping malls and supermarkets, which contributes to the popularity of online shopping and order content. In addition to the soaring demand for personal care products, for example, antiseptic gels, we are also seeing an increase in demand for domestic leisure goods," the company said.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Beijing, Washington trade barbs in information war
The Chinese Communist Party is preparing to declare victory in the battle against the novel coronavirus, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The number of people who have contracted the disease abroad has exceeded the number of new patients in China for the second day in a row. Government media outlets claim that China has been able to cope with the crisis thanks to the advantages of the socialist system and the leading role of the Communist Party. On the other hand, many people in Wuhan, the city where the epidemic started, believe that the authorities are responsible for the delay in fighting the deadly infection.
Meanwhile, the celebrated level-headedness typical of the Chinese seems to have disappeared, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian who recently accused the US of spreading the epidemic, tweeting that it might be the US army that brought the coronavirus to China. The statement was apparently linked to the US army’s participation in the Military World Games held in Wuhan last October. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said it objected to the expression "Wuhan coronavirus" following remarks on the issue from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
According to Professor of the Higher School of Economics Alexei Maslov, mobilization management turned out to be much more effective given the current coronavirus situation. "China has been able to earmark substantial funds to build hospitals, attract volunteers and take other measures. China’s advantage is that it had a very large financial cushion. It will help it recover within a short period of time," he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
As for accusations against the US, according to the expert, China is beginning to play the same game that the United States played in January, that is, China has turned the tables and thrown the previous US accusations in the Americans’ faces, when Washington said that China was hiding true coronavirus data.
"China responded with tougher rhetoric. I don’t know whether the Chinese accusations are true, but the world is discussing them. That means that the rhetoric has hit its target," Maslov concluded.