Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, August 5th, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: OSCE observers decide not to travel to Russia
OSCE observers won’t travel to Russia’s State Duma election since the receiving side refused to approve the number of observers proposed by the organization, asking to reduce it by an order. Moscow said that its actions were caused by the complex epidemiological situation however the Europeans were not satisfied with this response. The Central Electoral Commission was surprised by the request for 500 observers, as the number had been less than 50 for every other country. Russian lawmakers are confident that this will not affect the legitimacy of the election, while experts think that the OSCE may have been influenced by the general worsening of Russia’s relations with international organizations.
"The OSCE will not be able to send observers for the upcoming elections to the Duma due to limitations imposed by Russian Federation’s authorities on the election observation," according to the statement by leaders of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) and its Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) made public on August 4. "The ability to independently determine the number of observers necessary for us to observe effectively and credibly is essential to all international observation. The insistence of the Russian authorities on limiting the number of observers we could send without any clear pandemic-related restrictions has unfortunately made today’s step unavoidable," said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci.
According to political scientist Alexei Makarkin, the ODHIR proceeds from the premise that they establish standards while the OSCE member states accept them, so limiting the mission by 50 observers for such a large country as Russia will negatively influence the effectiveness of their work. According to the expert, the OSCE’s opinion could also have been influenced by the Russian change in rhetoric with regards to international organizations and the support of Alexander Lukashenko during rallies after presidential elections in Belarus, while an incident in early July may have been the last straw when the Russian delegation left an OSCE PA meeting after a resolution they deemed anti-Russian was included on the agenda. At the same time, Russia won’t reject legitimizing the election through international observation and will concentrate on experts from the CIS states or Western countries who have been invited personally and not via professional organizations, the expert thinks.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tankers prevent nuclear deal
Several interests intersected - the renewal of the nuclear deal with Iran, the lifting of sanctions and then Iran rejoining OPEC+ to stabilize the oil market against the background of new tanker incidents near the Strait of Hormuz where up to 20% of the world’s oil is transported. Market tickers have not yet reacted to the events that a number of countries blame on Tehran. Yet if the situation escalates and the route is blocked, oil prices may soar by tens of dollars per barrel.
The incident with the Mercer Street tanker in the Arabian Sea should not influence the talks on the nuclear deal, Iranian Ambassador to the UK Mohsen Baharvand told the Financial Times newspaper. Yet it is already possible to say that it may incite a new loop of tension around the Strait of Hormuz. The incident was immediately followed by a seizure of the Asphalt Princess tanker off the UAE coast and media outlets reported Iran’s involvement, citing the British intelligence, which Iran denied. Meanwhile, six more tankers reported a loss of control, according to news agencies.
"What’s going on now near Iran’s coast, most likely, has a political and not an economic explanation. Piracy (under any flag) is always blackmail and bargaining for the most optimal conditions," head of the analytical department of AMarkets Artyom Deyev said. If one accepts the version that Iran was involved, then it is trying to apply pressure on the US on the nuclear deal, the expert presumed. "The incidents have not yet affected oil prices and the cost of liquefied natural gas transported via this route," he noted. Yet the consequences of blocking the Strait of Hormuz may be serious. "The blockage of the route will lead to a new loop of growing oil and gas prices both in Europe and Asia, will cause political tensions in the region and may lead to a military conflict in the Persian Gulf," the expert thinks, saying that the prices may soar by $10-20 in a week or a month.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Gazprom leaves Europe without gas supplies
Gazprom has, to all intents and purposes, stopped pumping gas to European underground storages, according to the Gas Infrastructure Europe portal. The reduction started at the end of last week which is happening against the background of gas shortages in the EU and a price surge. Experts think that on one hand, Russia is doing the groundwork to secure the swift certification of Nord Stream 2, and on the other, hopes to profit from the price increase.
At the same time, some experts expect Gazprom to fulfill all its obligations to European suppliers. "Since the beginning of the year, Gazprom increased the export of gas to Europe and over seven months of 2021 supplied 42% more gas than last year to Germany alone. The gas storages in Europe are filled up virtually to 60%, these volumes are quite sufficient to pass the winter period even if gas is not pumped at all to the underground storage facilities," executive director of a department of Univer Capital Artyom Tuzov notes. In his opinion, the issue of the fill rate of European storage facilities is contrived.
"For many years the European Commission was moving towards creating a competitive environment with gas supplies to Europe. And if some countries have concerns about the possibility of Gazprom not delivering gas, they can always purchase gas from alternative suppliers," he said. If, for some reason, there are no alternative suppliers, the EU can always speed up the certification and launch of Nord Stream 2, the expert thinks.
Izvestia: Tourism business expects increased air travel to Egyptian resorts
The number of flights to Egypt’s resorts may be increased by expanding Moscow’s limit as well as by launching flights from Russian regions, the sources of Izvestia in the tourism industry say. Additionally, there is the possibility that charter flights to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh will resume by the end of August, according to deputy chairman of the Russian Union of Travel Industry Yuri Barzukin. It is expected that the headquarters will review the Egyptian limit at their next meeting. Earlier, it was said that the issue would be discussed after the evaluation of the epidemiological situation in Egypt. Egypt’s media outlets asserted that the Russian delegation was satisfied with the preventive measures that have so far been taken.
On July 23, the anti-coronavirus crisis center permitted direct flights to Egypt from Moscow. Starting on August 9, five flights a week are planned to both Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
The deputy chairman said that it was very possible that the charter flights to the Egyptian resorts would be permitted before the end of August, adding that the Union appealed to the prime minister to accelerate this process.
"The commission completed the work, the feedback is positive, so virtually nothing prevents the opening of the charter flights to Egypt. This is precisely the next step and not the increase of regular flights from Russia. And the situation here won’t depend on COVID-19 but on the demand and readiness of airlines and tour operators to generate tourist traffic to Egypt. After all, August is a hot month and the majority of tourists will prefer traveling in September-October-November," he said.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: After inoculation with any of three vaccines less than two individuals out of 100 get sick
The mass inoculation drive is at its peak and the issue of which Russian vaccine - Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona or CoviVac - is the most effective one is still pertinent. Both the Health Ministry and the sanitary watchdog reiterated that inoculation protects against all strains of the virus, including the Delta variant, yet there no specific numbers were provided. However, over the past few days there have been several reports which allow comparison between the three vaccines.
First, the Vector Center reported that out of more than a million people vaccinated with EpiVacCorona only slightly more than 0.5% got sick with COVID-19. Then St. Petersburg’s health department published its data. Out of 860,000 people who were fully inoculated, 14,600 contracted COVID-19 which amounts to 1.7%, while the share of those inoculated with Sputnik V who got sick amounted to 1.64%.
Slightly more than 6% got sick after receiving both components of EpiVacCorona and 0.89% contracted the coronavirus infection after getting CoviVac. Later, the Vector Center which monitors information from all Russian regions reported that "the share of those who got sick 21 days after receiving the second dose of a vaccine amounts to 0.66% for Sputnik V, 0.59% for EpiVacCorona and 0.27% for CoviVac. The share of those who got sick among all those who received at least one dose of a vaccine amounts to 0.79% for Sputnik V, 1.3% for EpiVacCorona and 0.93% for CoviVac."
In response to a question as to why the numbers vary and whether it is possible to judge which vaccine is more potent, Alexei Paramonov, head of the Rassvet clinic where clinical trials of tests are conducted and the trials of vaccines are planned, said that the indicator of efficacy and safety of vaccines is calculated based on Phase Three clinical trials. Currently, these trials are continued by all developers. "Such trials follow a strict protocol, they should be randomized in order to exclude a systematic error, they are conducted during a lengthy time period and on large groups of participants," the expert explained. "And the final results will become known about a year after the beginning of large-scale inoculation. At the same time it is important for the results to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal - this proves that the studies were conducted correctly. There are already articles on this for Sputnik V, yet not for CoviVac and EpiVacCorona, so we have to rely only on the monitoring data and the manufacturer’s statements," he added.
The expert explained that the Vector Center has submitted its interim data, noting that the important part is that all three vaccines work and protect people against the coronavirus infection, while if a person gets infected after the shot, the course of the disease is light.
Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko reported that over 98% of hospitalized coronavirus patients were not inoculated, while Russia’s chief sanitary doctor Anna Popova emphasized that while vaccines were being developed against the initial strain detected in Wuhan, they also cope with the Delta strain.