Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 31, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Recent Suez Canal bottleneck sparks interest in Northern Sea Route
Navigation along the Suez Canal returned to normal operation, after having been suspended for several days due to the Ever Given cargo ship that got wedged in the waterway. That said, the bottleneck has sparked interest in alternative ways of delivering goods from China to Europe. If Russia can implement plans for the development of the Northern Sea Route at a cost of about 0.5 trillion rubles ($6.59 bln), this route will be able to attract no more than 2% of the current volume of container traffic through the Suez Canal, experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The incident with the container ship showed the world the need for other conduits for the supply of goods to ensure economic security, Deputy General Director of the Central Research and Design Institute of the Navy Alexander Buyanov told the newspaper. He explained that it is container cargo that forms the basis of transit from China to European ports. "So far, the Northern Sea Route remains a difficult and unpredictable route for cargo owners and fleet operators. It seems to me, it is Russian companies that should take the initiative here and show the whole world the expediency of using the Northern Sea Route for year-round transit traffic. This will not happen in the next two or three years, but in five to six years the volume of cargo traffic of about 1 mln TEU can be switched to the Northern Sea Route," the expert believes.
Russia is actively building a nuclear icebreaker fleet, and research is underway on the design and construction of Arctic container ships. At the end of February 2021, the first Russian satellite, Arktika-M, entered into orbit to monitor the climate and the environment in this zone, Buyanov added.
"Russia is one of the main beneficiaries of the diversification of Chinese supply routes to Europe, but in the next 20 years the Northern Sea Route will not become a real competitor to the Suez Canal," President of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Vitaly Mankevich told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to the expert, "There is transit potential, and how we use it will depend on our investments in infrastructure development."
Kommersant: Russia seeks ways to bring US, Iranian positions closer on nuke deal
Washington plans to put forward new proposals to Tehran in order to revive the Iranian nuke deal (Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, JCPOA). The US is ready to ease sanctions if Iran suspends some nuclear activities. That said, according to American media reports, the Biden administration is not satisfied with simply returning to the JCPOA: it wants to improve the deal. The Iranian authorities have previously called this approach unacceptable. Meanwhile, Kommersant reports that Moscow has found a way to satisfy the requests of both sides.
A Kommersant source with the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow had found a way to consider additional requests from Washington. For this, employing Russia's idea of creating a collective security system in the Persian Gulf zone has been proposed.
Deputy Chairman of the Association of Russian Diplomats Andrey Baklanov, who participates in such meetings, told Kommersant that this month consultations were held with high-level American experts linked to the Biden administration, the State Department, and military structures. "In my opinion, the Americans are not very impressed with the idea of taking the plan developed in Moscow as the basis for discussion, but they are ready to take some ideas into consideration. This is normal, we have nothing against it, and we are ready to consider any proposals, as long as there is progress," Baklanov emphasized.
Arab countries are also eyeing Moscow's initiative. According to Advisor to the UAE President on Diplomatic Affairs Anwar Gargash, the role of Russia is important for bridging the gap and strengthening stability. The only question is what position on this initiative will ultimately be taken by the United States.
Vedomosti: Russia anticipating third wave of COVID-19
A third wave of COVID-19 is possible in Russia, Deputy Health Minister Tatyana Semenova said on March 30. According to her, measures to prevent the third wave are already being carried out, however in a number of large cities the risks and threats of infection are still very high. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that a possible third wave will be less severe than the second and there may not be any tough restrictions.
For the European Union, the third wave of COVID-19 has become a reality. On March 26, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen officially confirmed this, stressing the particular importance of vaccination in such conditions. Governments of many countries in the region were forced to extend or strengthen restrictions on citizens.
Director General of DSM Group Sergey Shulyak told the newspaper that coronavirus is becoming seasonal. "The seasonality of the coronavirus is evident in Europe. There the peaks are earlier than in Russia, because it gets warmer there earlier," he said. According to the expert, a third wave of COVID-19 is quite possible, but it is unlikely to be more powerful than the second.
According to political scientist Gleb Kuznetsov, the political consequences will be minimal if the authorities "expand the scope of their medical response." If the state acts according to "European logic, arranges lockdowns, closes schools and deprives people of work, then political problems are very likely," the expert added.
At the same time, one should not expect that the third wave will necessarily come to Russia from the West. "The situation is different everywhere. The measures that are taken are unique and specific. And there is no sense in copying European media hysteria on the eve of a ‘possible new wave’ in Russia," the expert concluded.
Izvestia: Apple may conclude amicable agreement with Russian antimonopoly watchdog
For the first time, Apple may conclude an amicable agreement with Russia's anti-monopoly authorities, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) told Izvestia, referring to the company's position. The Silicon Valley-based IT giant filed a lawsuit against the FAS in November 2020, after the Russian regulator declared that the company abused its dominant position in the market. The reason for this was based on a complaint from Kaspersky Lab. The Russian company argued that Apple obliged it to cut the parental control functions of the application after the corporation had a similar program.
During a session of the Moscow Arbitration Court on March 19, the Silicon Valley tech giant requested that the consideration of the dispute with the Federal Antimonopoly Service be postponed. "Apple filed a motion to postpone the case for the possibility of an amicable settlement of the dispute. At present, the regulator has not received specific proposals from the company," the FAS press service told the newspaper.
Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that an amicable agreement between Apple and the Federal Antimonopoly Service is possible. The Russian market is important for the tech giant. "The only question is how seriously the Russian authorities influenced it. Previously, our country was a relatively ‘safe haven’, but with the aggravation of relations between Russia and the US, the attitude towards American IT giants has become aggravated," owner of the Katkov and Partners company Pavel Katkov said.
"The fact that the company first files a lawsuit and then talks about an amicable agreement may indicate that it has a weak bargaining position. For Apple, Russia is the largest market in Europe, the company will be increasingly willing to make compromises in order to work here," Chief analyst at Mobile Research Group Eldar Murtazin believes.
Specific terms of the settlement agreement between Apple and the antimonopoly agency will depend on the nuances of the legal dispute and other circumstances known to its participants, attorney and partner at BMS Law Firm Denis Frolov noted.
Izvestia: Retail demand for gold in Russia soared in 2020
Retail demand for gold in Russia in 2020 saw a 37-percent surge over a one-year period, the World Gold Council (WGC) told Izvestia. The main reasons for the high popularity were the pandemic, growing precious metal prices, the depreciation of the ruble and the uncertainty associated with the geopolitical situation.
"Last year, retail demand for the precious metal surged 37% higher than in 2019, from 3.7 tonnes to 5 tonnes. This popularity is associated with the epidemiological situation, the rise in the price of the metal, the devaluation of the Russian currency and geopolitical uncertainty," WGC Director of Public Policy and Central Banking Tatiana Fitz told Izvestia. She noted that demand for precious metals is also expected to grow in 2021.
Prices for the precious metal in the next two years may reach $2,500-3,000 per troy ounce, VTB Senior Vice President Vladimir Potapov told the newspaper. The banker also expressed confidence in the growing popularity of investing in yellow metal this year.
Nevertheless, experts see risks in such investments. With short-term investments, trends are unstable, it is difficult to sell it at the market price. The main disadvantage of investing in gold is its strong volatility, analyst at Freedom Finance Valery Emelyanov told Izvestia.