Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, December 28th, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: How the new COVID-19 strain impacts Russia
The "UK" strain of coronavirus is approximately 80% similar to what is common in Russia, Head of the MIPT’s genomic engineering laboratory Pavel Volchkov told Izvestia. The existing differences are not enough for it to be able to escape from the immune response of already developed vaccines. According to the expert, it will be possible to talk about more serious mutations with the advent of targeted drugs that will make the infection evolve. However, this should not be expected in the near future. Meanwhile, the UK’s COVID-19 strain was found in Canada, which means it continues to spread.
According to Volchkov, the possibility that the new strain of the virus will get to Russia cannot be completely ruled out. However, there are a number of things that make this possibility less daunting. "There are great similarities between the current Russian strain and the "UK" one. Analysis shows that they are 80% similar. The difference is in the mutations that the "UK" strain acquired relatively recently," the scientist noted.
For the media, the danger of the "UK" virus is greatly inflated, the scientist said. Widespread lockdowns are more of a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile, Russia’s headquarters for the fight against coronavirus on December 27 reported 28,284 new coronavirus cases. "This time the process of reaching the plateau is much longer than it was in the spring," member of the State Duma Committee on Health Protection Boris Mendelevich told Izvestia. "The second wave turned out to be larger than we expected," he added.
Russia became the fourth country in the world after the United States, Brazil, and India, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassing 3 mln.
Kommersant: Indian opposition triggers dispute over cancelled summit with Russia
Moscow and New Delhi are preparing for a Russian-Indian summit, which could take place in the first half of 2021, India’s Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma told Kommersant, commenting on the scandal in Delhi over the cancellation of the annual Russian-Indian summit this year. Indian media reported on the friction between Moscow and Delhi, and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi directly accused the authorities of "destroying traditional ties with Moscow." At the same time, sources told Kommersant that Moscow’s statements about India getting closer to the United States and being drawn into the "anti-Chinese games" are causing increasing bewilderment in Delhi.
The Indian Ambassador to Russia told Kommersant that both parties continue to closely interact in laying the groundwork for a new Russian-Indian summit in the first half of next year. The diplomat rejected suggestions that political tensions could be the reason for cancelling meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2020.
The clarification came after Russian-Indian relations for the first time in their history found themselves at the center of a scandal in India. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi accused the government of pursuing policies that undermined the achievements of previous decades by destroying the country’s traditional relationship with Russia. His statement was immediately disavowed by India’s key foreign policy agency. The India-Russia summit did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, chiding Gandhi’s comment as irresponsible.
However, Kommersant’s sources in India put the spotlight on some assessments by Russian officials about India's relations with the United States and China that is causing growing confusion in the Indian capital. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava noted that the Indo-Pacific strategy, which has rattled Moscow, is not directed against any particular country.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China’s coronavirus success irks foreign partners
In 2020, China's reputation in the eyes of the West, and in the developing world has deteriorated, according to polls. Many disliked the fact that Beijing is demonstrating success in the fight against the pandemic as evidence of the superiority of its political system. The outspokenness with which Chinese diplomats publicly rebuff critics of Beijing's policies also played a negative role. At the same time, experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, since China’s power is growing and it often uses force to strengthen its territorial claims, it was impossible to avoid aggravating the contradictions between China and the United States, as well as their allies.
Paradoxically, attitudes towards China have worsened because of the way Beijing presents its indisputable successes in the fight against coronavirus to the outside world. China says it has helped other nations buy time to prepare the healthcare field for the impending disaster, but it is widely believed in the West that China is hiding something, and that its actions in the fight against the pandemic are murky, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Head of the HSE Department of International Relations Alexander Lukin told the newspaper, "The main challenge for China in 2020 was the aggravation of relations with the United States and the pandemic. It coped with the pandemic pretty well. The economy is recovering. However, China has indeed lost its prestige. But not because it was hiding the truth about coronavirus. Beijing lost its prestige rather because of the new diplomatic style, with Chinese diplomats teaching everyone what to do and scolding everybody. This style is dubbed wolf warrior diplomacy".
According to opinion polls, the world’s positive outlook on China is steadily declining. The good attitudes decreased by 10%, and the negative ones increased. But the Chinese economy can exist and develop only under conditions of good relations with other countries. It is very much tied to exports and to world markets. If relations deteriorate, it will sooner or later affect China's foreign trade, Lukin concluded.
Izvestia: Russians dream of travelling to Italy in 2021, but borders might be open only in summer
When flights to other countries are allowed, every tenth Russian wants to go to Italy, according to a poll by Tutu.ru prepared for Izvestia. A slightly smaller share of respondents plan to vacation in Spain and Thailand. Russians also would like to visit Germany, Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Representatives of the travel industry noted that tours to Egypt, Tunisia, Montenegro, and Croatia are among the leaders in terms of requests for 2021. However, virologists told Izvestia that the borders will not be open before summer, and even then, it is better to refrain from traveling.
Vice-president of ATOR Dmitry Gorin attributed Russians’ choices to the fact that Italy and Spain were not available for travel in 2020. "For Italy and Spain, tourism is a very important sector of the economy, so they also want to open their borders as soon as possible. However, there are clear criteria that will allow this to be done: 40 cases per 100,000 of the population, the transmission and infection rate is 1%. So far, only 16 international destinations are open to Russians. Among them are Ghana, Mexico, Chile, but there are no direct flights to these countries. And this is an important fact for the restoration of tourist links," the expert told Izvestia.
Gorin also noted that after the borders are opened, the price of tourism services in the host countries will not change to support the industry. And the industry's recovery will stretch over the next three years.
The tourism sector hopes that the borders with Europe will open in the spring. However, virologists interviewed by Izvestia believe that this will only happen in the summer.
"Borders should be opened when the situation with the spread of coronavirus normalizes, and this can happen in July-August," Aleksandr Butenko, a virologist from the Gamaleya Center told Izvestia. The only way travelling across Europe becomes safer is by getting vaccinated, Head of the MIPT genomic engineering laboratory Pavel Volchkov added.
Vedomosti: Bank of Russia restricts investors' access to risky assets
The Bank of Russia hammered out amendments to a number of existing laws that restrict the admission of unqualified investors to financial instruments six months earlier than had been expected. The document will be submitted to the State Duma by the end of 2020, Vedomosti writes. The regulator has repeatedly stated, the purpose of limiting the access of unqualified investors to complex financial instruments is to protect these investors. This is especially important now, when many individuals enter the stock market for the first time, actively transferring funds from bank deposits.
Only shares of companies from the Bank of Russia’s quotation lists, OFZs, bonds of Russian companies with high ratings, shares of open-ended, exchange-traded and interval mutual funds, sovereign bonds of the EU or EAEU countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as corporate bonds of companies registered in these countries can be used by unqualified investors.
Experts noted that, on the one hand, this list covers 99% of the needs of an ordinary unqualified investor, but on the other hand, it can alienate some novice investors. The new bill leaves them (at least for the next couple of years) with access only to low-risk and, thus, not very profitable instruments.
"The restrictions proposed by the Bank of Russia will not prevent retail investors from entering the stock market, but will limit their access to protective instruments, to the derivatives market, as well as to margin transactions," President of the National Association of Securities Market Participants (NAUFOR) Alexey Timofeev told Vedomosti.
President and Chairman of the Board of Finam Group Vladislav Kochetkov calls the new restrictions unexpected and unreasonably tough. "The consequences will be extremely painful for the stock market. On the other hand, insurance companies, foreign brokers and other organizations will thrive, receiving additional benefits by artificially limiting competition," he told the newspaper.