© AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, September 24th, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: New US sanctions unlikely to deal major blow to Russian bond market
A new bill has been submitted to the US House of Representatives. Apart from imposing restrictions on individuals, it also bans American investors from purchasing new issues of Russian bonds in the secondary market, Izvestia writes.
Talk about American sanctions against Russia's sovereign debt had been going on for several years before restrictions were actually introduced following the ascent of Joe Biden and his administration to the White House, who prohibited US financial institutions from participating in the primary market for the Russian sovereign debt in April. Following the ban, foreign investors started to reduce their portfolios of Russian government bonds, but the trend reversed in September and foreign investment in the sector grew by 20%. Foreign investors flocked to the Russian financial market largely out of confidence that high tensions between Moscow and Washington were over and there wouldn’t be any harsher sanctions. However, doubts have now returned.
Still, Russian experts don't think the odds are high that the idea will be implemented. "The market has shown little reaction as participants have learned to take this kind of news in stride, so we don't see any strong reaction to such initiatives put forward by lawmakers, like it used to be back in 2018, Expert RA Chief Economist Anton Tabakh pointed out. According to him, there are now fewer players on the market who would view Washington’s decisions as crucial. Russia's current budget situation, export prices, and national and global interest rate levels are far more important than sanctions activities, the analyst added.
According to Assets Manager at BCS World of Investments Andrei Rusetsky, chances are that the bill will be saved for last so that Washington has a way of responding to a new rise in tensions with Moscow. "There is no political or informational reason to widen the sanctions. It's the House's inner workings, the Senate will likely ignore it and the president won't sign it. There needs to be an excuse for such sanctions, so they will be saved for last as a containment tool," the expert emphasized.
The risk is low that the sanctions will make the sovereign debt market collapse because there is a cure. "In April 2021, Russian state banks expressed readiness to buy assets from foreign investors, and [Finance Minister] Anton Siluanov noted that the Central Bank could provide them with money for that purpose," Finam analyst Alexei Kovalev said. If the US moves to expand sanctions to the secondary market of the ruble-denominated sovereign debt, it will inevitably turn the federal loan bond market into a local one, focused on the Central Bank's key interest rate, the expert stressed.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon seeks to gain foothold in Kazakhstan against China
Kazakh air force pilots made themselves seen during the Peace Mission 2021 drills conducted by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). On the other hand, Kazakhstan also takes part in NATO's activities. Experts believe that following the US troop pullout from Afghanistan, Washington and Nur-Sultan agreed on the deployment of Washington’s forces to Kazakhstan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan recently hosted a meeting between the top brass of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the US. Washington's special envoy for Afghanistan, who earlier paid a visit to Kazakhstan, in turn, announced talks with Central Asian countries on potential deployments to the region after the Afghanistan troop pullout. On September 17, the Kazakh president suggested at a joint meeting of the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization that a humanitarian bridge be created based on an airfield in the Kazakh city of Almaty in order to provide assistance to the Afghan people. However, judging by the meeting's final documents, the idea did not find any support.
Analyst Alya Kaminskaya does not rule out that the Pentagon seeks to use the Almaty hub as "an air base for reconnaissance and military cargo planes." She points out that Almaty International Airport no longer belongs to Kazakhstan since news emerged in May that 100% of its shares had been purchased by Turkey's TAV Airports Holding.
"There are two alarming things. First, Turkey is an active NATO member and the Americans can benefit from Ankara's geopolitical expansion into Central Asia and the South Caucasus," military expert retired Colonel Shamil Gareev noted. "Second, the Almaty airfield is the closest to China. For the US and Turkey, it is a perfect facility for reconnaissance activities related to China, including the Xinjiang Autonomous Region," he added.
According to military expert, retired Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev, "another reason why the US and Turkey are interested in Kazakhstan is because the country produces about 40% of the world's raw uranium." "If the Americans and Turks manage to put Russia and Kazakhstan at odds with each other, they might try to choke off our Strategic Nuclear Forces. So, Russia should better maintain friendly relations with Kazakhstan in order to be able to protect its strategic interests," the expert noted.
Kommersant: Social media beats legacy media in the battle for voters' hearts and minds
Social media networks and messaging services turned out to be an enormously effective tool in Russia's recent legislative elections, Kommersant writes, citing expert research conducted by the political technology committee of the Russian Public Relations Association. Political strategists used Instagram, YouTube and Telegram the most, while the role of media outlets significantly declined.
The survey, which involved 60 practicing political consultants, clarified that social media networks are increasingly effective in election campaigns. In 2016, experts rated them 2.7% on a five-point scale, but now the rate is 4.1. Among social media services that topped the list following the elections are Instagram (4.2), Telegram (4) and YouTube (3.8), as political strategists came to view them as more effective than before. The survey's authors pointed out the almost equal effectiveness of federal TV and Telegram channels "in terms of influencing decision-makers" was sensational. Experts also placed the VKontakte and Odnoklassniki social media networks high on the list, giving both a 3.5 rating.
This year, there was hardly a candidate who wasn't active on social media because such activities have now become a necessity, Association of Internet Technologists member Yevgeny Yatsyuk said, commenting on the research. "There has been a leap forward as far as the use of targeted advertising on VKontakte and Odnoklassniki goes," the expert added.
All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center Director General Valery Fedorov generally agrees with the survey's conclusions. "The online battle for voters is not a whim but a necessity. Our polls show that the share of active TV audience has been declining considerably for two to three years, while the share of Internet users keeps rising. However, it's not that easy to campaign online," the expert explained.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Europe wants more gas while fighting against Nord Stream 2
Poland's PGNiG oil and gas company, a long-time ill-wisher of Russia's energy projects, will take part in the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The company makes no secret of its determination to do everything possible to delay if not halt the project’s launch. Meanwhile, gas prices in Europe remain at a record-high level of over $900 per 1,000 cubic meters and gas storage facilities are half empty, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.
Despite all the problems, Europe has not yet made any steps to meet Moscow halfway. The decision to keep the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to half of its capacity has not been reviewed, and efforts continue to promote the idea of abandoning the use of hydrocarbons. The current crisis is proof of the economically unfounded rates of renewable energy development, said Associate Professor at the Financial University under the Russian Government Valery Andrianov. Renewable energy development in Europe used to involve huge government subsidies, but now many politicians and experts claim that renewable energy has become competitive for traditional energy sources so government grants are no longer necessary. However, in fact, the high costs of alternative energy are being shifted to customers.
The Polish company's participation in the certification of Nord Stream 2 will not become an insurmountable obstacle for the project. According to Alexander Kurdin, an expert at the Russian Government's Analysis Center, the company won't have the final word. However, its participation means that regulators intend to pay more attention to the arguments of the Russian gas pipeline's opponents.
Had PGNiG been denied participation, there would have been more litigation, while there will anyway be one regardless of the decision that regulators make, but an additional lawsuit might have been deemed excessive, Deputy Director of the National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach noted. The very procedure will take no more than four months, with a decision expected by January 8, 2022.
Kommersant: Russian experts point to fourth coronavirus wave
Russia's coronavirus cases are on the rise again. Authorities in Moscow and other regions are talking about a fourth COVID-19 wave. According to experts, an autumn spike in infections could be expected and will last for several weeks, Kommersant writes.
Assistant Professor at Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University’s Department of Children's Infectious Diseases Ivan Konovalov points out that a rise in infections comes as no surprise because the cold weather has moved in and people have returned from vacations. Director General of the DNKOM Center for Molecular Genetic Studies Andrei Isayev says that coronavirus waves usually last four to six weeks, so the situation can be expected to stabilize by early November, "as long as we don't see any new virus strains."
According to infectious disease expert Doctor of Medicine Ilya Akinfiyev, it was the summer outbreak that proved surprising as experts had expected the coronavirus situation to improve in the summer. In the fall, when respiratory infections always tend to rise, the number of COVID-19 patients can grow even more, he added.
Konovalov is confident that coronavirus waves will keep coming until the number of vaccinated people exceeds that of those who aren't inoculated. According to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, over 43 mln people (about 29%) have been fully vaccinated in Russia.
In Konovalov's view, the current rise in infections and the number of deaths will eventually depend on vaccination rates. "The share of people recovering from the virus is also increasing. And even though recovered patients are less likely to contract the virus than those who are not vaccinated, new virus variants will be more capable of affecting recovered patients than vaccinated people," the expert concluded.