Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, July 9, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia likely to prevent second coronavirus outbreak
Russia has all chances of thwarting a second wave of the coronavirus and avoiding tough quarantine measures, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Russia Melita Vujnovic told Izvestia. She stressed that the cancellation of restrictions in Russia did not trigger a surge in diseases and the authorities manage to control the spread of the pandemic. Meanwhile, other countries have introduced new lockdowns. Ayelet Shenar, who heads Israel’s MDA blood service, noted that the country’s second wave of COVID-19 could have been prevented if everyone had worn face masks and Russia should take this experience into account. Since July 8, restrictions have been resumed in Israel. Similar measures were imposed in Serbia, where the president’s decision to declare a new curfew triggered mass street protests. A second coronavirus wave also hit Kazakhstan, where the number of cases has nearly doubled since early July.
According to Vujnovic, after the restrictions were lifted in mid-June, Russia has seen a stable decrease in new cases across the country in general. However, the expert admitted that there are some regions, which face more serious problems - either in terms of an increase in new cases or providing medical assistance or public compliance with measures. In order to avoid a second wave, Russia should learn from the experience of those countries, which are now dealing with the second outbreak.
"The safer the behavior of each person as far as preventing the dissemination of the virus goes (maintaining distance, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, going to the doctor when the first symptoms appear), the higher chances are that we will be able to prevent or control a second wave," an expert told the newspaper.
Shenar, director of Israel’s blood service, noted that the key reason for resuming the quarantine is that economic activity was rebooted too quickly. The restrictions should have been eased more slowly, but businesses were reopened in Israel within three weeks, the medical specialist said.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US could lose access to oil in Syria and Iraq
Lawmakers in Washington seek to prohibit the Pentagon from spending federal funds on keeping control over oil fields in Syria and Iraq. This is stipulated in the draft version of the 2021 defense budget. However, the legislators are proposing to continue funding local forces in order to prevent the revival of the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia), Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The document envisages expenditures to the tune of $700 mln on supporting foreign security services, non-governmental armed units and individuals battling IS in Iraq and Syria. These funds are aimed at backing Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga units and the Democratic Forces of Syria coalition, which mainly consists of the Kurds.
Commenting on the US Congress’ desire to ban any funding for a direct military presence in the oil-rich regions of Iraq and Syria, Anton Mardasov, a researcher at the Washington-based Middle East Institute (MEI), told the paper: "Everything is clear with Iraq: the Pentagon and the CIA are concentrating all military facilities in Iraqi Kurdistan. And a priori, due to the large number of local and semi-western private security companies and agencies, there are no security problems there." As for Syria, the key flaw of Washington’s position is the failure to outline policy on the US presence in the country’s northeast (Trans-Euphrates zone).
The news that the United States is seeking to distance itself from protecting the oil fields serves as proof of its waning influence. However, now the US military is creating new strongholds in eastern Syria and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which recently came into effect, strengthened the Kurds’ positions, who continue selling oil to Damascus, the expert said.
"I believe the US simply wants to support local groups in their oil trade via different routes and avoid direct accusations of illegally trading oil," Mardasov noted. Should the US contingent withdraw, this Syrian region could operate autonomously and rely on the Europeans and the Persian Gulf states, he said.
Izvestia: Roscosmos advisor’s arrest could be linked to arms supplies to Algeria
The high treason case against Ivan Safronov, an advisor to the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency and a former journalist, could be linked to a contract on the supplies of Iskander ballistic missile systems to Algeria in 2017. According to attorneys, the Federal Security Service believes that back then, Czech intelligence assigned Safronov with his mission. The lawyers confirmed that the investigation is related to arms supplies to Africa and the Middle East, Izvestia writes. Czech and NATO representatives declined to comment, but it is well-known that the Algerian contract and the situation around it were tough for the North African state, which was even targeted for sanctions. As a result, Algeria had to undertake commitments to spend up to $30 bln on US and European armaments in 2019-2024.
The supplies of Russia’s advanced Iskander-E ballistic missiles to Algeria was one of the most secret deals in the region. The country was the first recipient of the system outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Only Armenia had acquired the new system before it, the newspaper writes. Although the news on signing a contract on the Iskander broke back in 2013, the details of its implementation were not covered.
According to lawyer Evgeny Smirnov, the attorneys do not understand the particular charges against Safronov. The documents, which explain the suspicions against the ex-journalist, will be presented on Monday when the official charges will be pressed. The penalty under Article 275 of the Criminal Code implies at least 12 years behind bars, but usually the sentence in Russia is milder, lawyer Svetlana Gurevich noted. Some alleviating circumstances could play a role here such as his cooperation with investigators, repentance, providing more details, including on accomplices or a serious disease and having small children.
Vice-President of the Russian office of the International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) Ivan Melnikov believes that since the case sparked a public outcry, the trial should be open to the fullest extent. The investigators will need solid evidence to prove that the defendant had deliberately passed on data to foreign intelligence and understood the possible consequences.
Vedomosti: Norilsk oil spill likely to trigger legal battle with environmental watchdog
Nornickel, the world’s largest palladium and nickel producer, is challenging the amount of environmental damage that was caused after a diesel fuel spill near Norilsk, the company said in a letter to Russia’s environmental watchdog. The federal agency estimated that the damage from the 21,000-tonne oil spill near the northernmost Russian city on May 29 reached nearly 148 bln rubles ($2 bln), an unprecedented figure for Russia. The damage to the water system was assessed at 147 bln rubles and to the soil at 738 mln rubles ($10 mln).
Meanwhile, Nornickel CEO Vladimir Potanin has estimated the cleanup effort, mainly collecting fuel oil from the rivers, at 10 bln rubles ($140.5 mln). The fines for environmental violations in Russia are very low, much lower than the actual damage to the environment, analyst at AKRA Maxim Khudalov told Vedomosti.
According to the law on environmental protection, in case the accused party and the watchdog fail to agree on the amount of damage that the company is ready to pay, the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia has the right to file a lawsuit with the court of arbitration. "The government may demand Nornickel compensate for the environmental damage both financially and through work on restoring the environment," said Alexander Filatov, an attorney at Forward Legal.
Khudalov noted that the environmental watchdog’s estimates of the damage seem to be exaggerated. Even Greenpeace put the damage at 107 bln rubles ($1.5 bln). "Our assessment is 22-25 bln rubles," he told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Alexei Knizhnikov, Head of the Program for the Business Environmental Responsibility at WWF-Russia, argued that the watchdog’s assessment was adequate concerning the damage. "The degradation of the terrain is awful from the viewpoint of water system and flora - this is an environmental disaster zone."
Kommersant: Gold prices hit nine-year record high
Global gold prices have topped $1,800 per an ounce and since the beginning of the year the yellow metal’s prices have surged more than 20%. The risks of a second wave of COVID-19, tensions between the United States and China as well as massive monetary injections by developed economies have bolstered the surge, Kommersant business daily wrote.
According to Promsvyazbank’s Chief Analyst Roman Antonov, the policy of low interest rates and unlimited provision of liquidity by central banks have contributed to investors’ interest in gold.
The key buyers of the yellow metal are gold ETFs, or exchange-traded funds. Expert at Sberbank Maria Krasnikova noted that 95% of all ETFs are located in the United States and Europe. The highest demand in these assets was seen in those countries hit hard by the coronavirus - the United States and the United Kingdom - while interest in gold was weaker in the countries that successfully lifted their quarantine measures, said Carsten Menke, an analyst at Julius Baer. Head of Alfa Bank's research department Boris Krasnozhenov noted that there was also a high demand in gold among individuals.
Meanwhile, the prices for other metals have shown less impressive dynamics, the newspaper noted. Market participants expect a further surge in gold prices in the near future.