Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, March 4, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China reluctant to join military alliance with Russia
China is not planning on creating a united front with Russia against NATO, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced. Its spokesperson stressed that military ties between the two powers served as a basis for a strategic partnership. However, the sides are sticking to the principle of non-participation in the alliances and do not want any confrontation. This statement was aimed at calming the foreign media and Chinese experts, who still remember Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remark that a Russian-Chinese alliance was not ruled out. Basically, by rejecting this option, Beijing is sending a hint to Washington that it still hopes to iron out differences with it.
Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that for a long time both Russian and Chinese foreign political rhetoric has been criticizing the mere idea of alliances. They noted that the bloc concept was obsolete and Russia described NATO as an outdated and irrelevant organization. However, Moscow has allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet security bloc. In its turn, China also lambasted the American system of alliances. "Therefore, it’s impossible for the sides to admit that they could create an alliance. Even if their relations have features of an alliance, their rhetoric will be: "This is another thing, this is a very close partnership, [simply] mutual assistance and friendship."
In fact, Russia and China have commitments under a 2001 treaty, which says that in the event of a danger to either side, consultations should be held on the means of eliminating that threat. "If we look at the US-Japanese treaty or the NATO treaty, the commitments there are also vague. The wording in the Russian-Chinese treaty does not differ that much from them," Kashin noted. Why was this issue raised now? According to Kashin, pressure on Russia and China has been ramped up. And all discussions on a possible alliance are just some sort of way of intimidating opponents.
Izvestia: Market awaits OPEC+ decision on potential increase in quotas
OPEC+ countries are likely to raise oil production in the coming months. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, this could be 500,000-1.5 mln barrels per day. The exact volume should be decided at the OPEC+ ministerial meeting on March 4. Ahead of the meeting, the Monitoring Committee are keeping a lid on the plans, offering no recommendations on the output level.
OPEC+ countries are looking closely into the prospects of restoring the world economy and a growing demand for energy, but on the other hand, they could be afraid of a third coronavirus wave, increasing oil reserves and an economic slowdown in India and China, experts told Izvestia. However, boosting production of the black gold by this volume won’t affect the price, which will remain above $60, analysts predicted. "The fact that there are no recommendations is good news locally for the markets. There is an expectation that production will grow by 1.5 mln barrels per day and today this was not announced. There is an intrigue that this would trigger increased volatility," Head of the Analytics Department at Alpari, Alexander Razuvayev told the newspaper.
The final decision of OPEC+ on March 4 could depend on the balance of demand and supply, said Artem Deev, who heads the analytical department at AMarkets. "Most likely, a decision will be made to step up production only by 500,000 barrels per day in April in order to track further dynamics. This decision of the alliance won’t destabilize prices, which will remain at $60-63 per barrel," the analyst noted. Even if OPEC+ decides to increase oil production by 1.5 mln barrels per day, this won’t ruin the market but will smooth out the balance between supply and demand, Razuvayev said.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Sputnik V jab turns into political battle in Moldova
Moldova has launched a vaccination drive against coronavirus. President Maia Sandu said 10-15% of AstraZeneca’s batch received from Romania would be handed over to Transnistria. Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Tiraspol would accept Chisinau’s assistance, since the Sputnik V inoculation has not arrived in the region yet. Meanwhile, in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia in southern Moldova, doctors are refusing to get the AstraZeneca shot and are awaiting the Russian vaccine. In his turn, leader of the Party of Socialists Igor Dodon has promised Moldovan citizens to ensure Sputnik V’s supplies. The vaccine is turning into an instrument in Moldova's power struggle.
Both President Sandu and former President Igor Dodon have sought to get a coronavirus vaccine. Sandu requested that Romania supply it, while Dodon turned to Moscow. Both capitals have promised vaccine deliveries. The Russian government also made a decision on supplying the Sputnik V jab to Transnistria, home to 200,000 Russians. However, Bucharest was the first to respond to the request. Most recently, 21,600 doses of AstraZeneca have arrived in Moldova from Romania.
Meanwhile, Moldovans will be able to get vaccinated with Sputnik V only in private clinics and will have to pay for it. The European vaccine will be available in state hospitals free-of-charge. So, President Sandu made a gesture ahead of the elections by endorsing Sputnik V’s registration, but at the same time she forced citizens to choose between a free European vaccine and the Russian vaccine for a price, even if it is supplied as humanitarian assistance. Dodon held talks on this in Moscow. The delays in supplying the Russian vaccine play into Sandu’s hand, according to the newspaper.
Izvestia: Solution to Armenian political crisis put off until next week
A solution to the political crisis in Armenia was again delayed; this time until March 8, opposition leaders told Izvestia. Until that date, Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan, whose resignation is demanded by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, will continue to fulfill his duties. Meanwhile, the premier keeps pushing for snap elections, viewing them as a means of restoring public solidarity. That said, tensions in the Armenian capital are rising. On March 3, stun grenades were placed around the parliament, and police cordons and snipers were deployed to Bagramyan Avenue, where nearly 5,000 protesters gathered. Armenia’s ombudsman Arman Tatoyan told the newspaper that this sort of public display of weapons against peaceful demonstrators was unacceptable.
Under the law, the Chief of General Staff had to resign on March 4 based on Pashinyan’s petition, and though not approved by the president, it was due to enter into force automatically. However, the General Staff said Gasparyan would remain in office at least until March 8, citing the law on military service.
Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan noted that despite the harsh criticism against the military leadership, Pashinyan could backtrack on his decision. This is one of the key options of ironing out the crisis, the expert said. “I believe that some negotiations on this, maybe not direct ones, are underway now. Although I’m not sure that this will defuse tensions in society. The reasons are broader than just dismissing the former general. But somehow this could help settle the situation with the top military brass, at least for some time. And the conflict won’t really go anywhere,” he said.
Vedomosti: Russia mulls new tax for foreign IT companies
Russia is likely to decide on introducing a new tax on foreign IT companies’ activities by the middle of this year, Vedomosti newspaper reported on Thursday, citing the IT industry members, who discussed this issue with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko last week.
The participants of the meeting, held as part of the talks on new measures to support and develop the domestic IT industry, were delegates of the Competence Center for Import Substitution in the Field of ICT, 1C, the Almaz Capital Partners venture fund, Alfa Bank, Russian Railways, Mail.ru Group, Yandex as well as industry associations.
The new measure, codenamed Digital Tax, is a part of a second package of measures to support Russia’s IT industry. It implies levying an additional fee on global companies that use Russian citizens’ data and devise advertising policy in the country. One example is analyzing the users’ behavior on the Internet for launching contextual advertising, according to the sources.
The money raised would be used to support the Russian IT industry. The country’s lawmakers plan to adopt a decision on the proposed measure by the middle of 2021. The law, according to which foreign companies selling digital content on the Internet in Russia are obliged to pay an 18% value-added tax, came into force on January 1, 2017.