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Press review: Putin’s visit to historic Holocaust Forum and coronavirus’ economic impact

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 23

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Soleimani’s death to boost Russian-Israeli dialogue

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend the World Holocaust Forum on Thursday in Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial complex. Putin is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss bilateral issues as well as Tehran’s influence in Syria. The creation of an Iranian strategic corridor to the Mediterranean Sea has drastically changed after the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The forum is dedicated to the 75th anniversary of liberating the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Israeli officials have welcomed Putin’s decision to take part in the event.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz stressed that Russia plays an important role in the Middle East. "Israel acts in coordination with Russia in solving regional issues. Israel appreciates President Putin’s understanding on the need to ensure Israel’s security," Katz said. The talks between Putin and Netanyahu on Israel’s security are likely to be held more smoothly in the wake of Soleimani’s death, the newspaper says.

With Soleimani out of the picture, this offers Vladimir Putin a chance to boost Russia’s influence in Syria vis-a-vis Iran, Frederic Hof, former special advisor for transition in Syria at the US Department of State, told the newspaper. According to him, Putin may ask Jerusalem to exert pressure on Washington so that it would reconcile with Assad in order to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria.

The high-ranking Iranian commander had overseen and created militias under Iran’s wing, but this process is set to continue after his death, said Russian International Affairs Council expert Anton Mardasov. Russia could take advantage of the Iranian general’s killing to strengthen its influence among Syria’s military and political elite, but it is unclear whether it is ready for this, he noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Coronavirus poses threat to global economic growth

The global outbreak of a new coronavirus from China could deal a significant blow to the world economy, which may be compared with the losses during the US-China trade war. The consequences of the coronavirus outbreak for the Chinese economy and the entire Asian region may be more serious than the 2003 atypical pneumonia epidemic, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Global stock exchange is in fever: the stocks of airline companies, casinos and luxury traders are plunging along with oil prices. If the market concerns over the outbreak are proven, oil prices will drop at least by $3, Goldman Sachs warned.

"The world economy is now waiting for ‘black swans’ — events that could suddenly affect the entire world. And the virus could be such an event even if it does not trigger any global consequences," Head of Analytic Department at AMarkets Artem Deev said. China’s tourism sector will be affected and this will target the transport sector. Besides, stock markets could lose up to 3% and the sales losses due to the virus during the holidays will deal a blow to Chinese companies’ profits, he noted.

According to Oleg Cherednichenko, an associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Russia could also suffer economic consequences from the virus because the number of tourists from China, who are a significant source of revenues, will seriously decline. Besides, trade in food commodities will also drop. Other analysts disagree, saying that the influence of coronavirus on the global economy is exaggerated.


Izvestia: Russian economy to outshine US, EU

Russia’s economic growth rate in 2020-2022 will be higher than in the United States and the Eurozone, according to an updated macroeconomic forecast by the Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Izvestia writes. In 2020, Russia’s GDP will grow 1.8% and 2.2% over the next two years, while the figures in the US will be 1.9%, 1.7% and 1.5% and in Europe — 1.7%, 1.5% and 1.5%. However, despite the positive dynamics, Russia is unlikely to catch up with the world’s average growth rates, the survey shows, attributing this to the lack of investment and weak consumer demand. The slowdown of the world’s major economies will be linked to other reasons, mostly trade wars, experts say.

The key driver of Russia’s economic growth in the mid-term outlook will be stepping up investment activity, namely fulfilling the National Projects, the survey says. The 1.8% GDP growth this year will increase consumer demand and boost national economy.

Over the next three years, the public’s income and consumer demand will expand slower than the GDP rate, and their contribution will be less significant, said Alexander Shirov, one of the authors of the survey, and the institute’s deputy head. According to him, this is linked to limits on the consumer credit market and the remaining problem of low incomes.

Director of the FBK Grant Thornton Strategic Analysis Institute Igor Nikolaev believes that the forecast is very upbeat given the current economic situation. He says the National Projects, though necessary, won’t be successful if the investment climate in the country remains unfavorable. In order to boost growth, along with economic reforms, which requires many years, there is the need to ease the tax burden, he stressed.

Meanwhile, BCS Premier’s chief analyst Anton Pokatovich believes that attaining an average global growth rate of nearly 3% provided that state investments speed up Russia’s economy, would be within reach.


Izvestia: Key security officials retain posts in new Russian government

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev will keep his job in the new Russian government led by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Along with him, key security officials will retain their positions, namely Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev.

The decision of the Russian president on Kolokoltsev’s reappointment was expected, Izvestia writes. Over the past years, the interior minister has ensured the stable and efficient function of the entire system, even during the crisis and the reforms. The police prevented serious violations of the law during the Olympic Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Critics note that given that Putin decided to dismiss Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, he needed to maintain a balance of power. Chairman of the Coordination Council of the Moscow Police Trade Union Mikhail Pashkin notes that under Kolokoltsev, who assumed office in 2012, the situation in police affairs significantly improved and the number of bribery crimes fell.

Russia’s Interior Ministry swiftly responded to the initiatives of the government and the Russian leader, fulfilling the goals that were set in due time, the paper notes. The ministry has been steadily tackling its key tasks – combating crime and maintaining public order, and its international cooperation has been successful. For example, Russia’s police played a major role in the investigation against former chairman of Moldova’s Democratic Party Vladimir Plahotniuc.

"As for the decisions and the focus that Kolokoltsev makes at working meetings, the priority is always the citizens and interaction with them and crime prevention… There is clear progress in the interior ministry’s bodies, in ensuring the safety of citizens and eradicating crucial problems like crime on the streets, for example," Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said.


Kommersant: Chlorine found in Kazakhstan could affect Rosneft’s supplies to China

Kazakhstan has surprisingly imposed restrictions on oil exports to China after chlorine compounds were found there. According to Kazakhstan’s Energy Ministry, contaminated oil was produced at one of the country’s major assets owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Against this background, Kazakhstan was forced to change the schedule of supplies to the oil refinery and decrease exports. Analysts told Kommersant business daily that the Kazakh pipeline’s contamination could affect Rosneft’s transit, which uses a swap scheme for its supplies to China via Kazakhstan.

Rosneft’s oil goes to the Pavlodar Oil Refinery while in exchange Kazakhstan supplies its oil to China via the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline. In 2020, Rosneft plans to deliver 10 mln tonnes of oil through this route. So, the suspended Kazakh oil supplies to China could temporarily affect Rosneft’s export, the paper says.

Meanwhile, the communications department at KazTransOil, Kazakhstan’s oil transporter, told the newspaper that the pipeline continued working and the transit was carried out as scheduled. A source in the Russian oil sector also denied problems with transit.

According to Sergey Garamita from Raiffeisen Bank, Transneft notes that Russian oil supplies to Kazakhstan have not diminished. But if the crisis continued, Rosneft would be forced to look for an extra spot in the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline (ESPO) to increase exports through the Kozmino port, the analyst said.

The incident in Kazakhstan grabs the spotlight as it is reminiscent of the spring 2019 situation, when oil was contaminated with chlorine compounds along the Druzhba oil pipeline. The Russian oil supplies to Eastern Europe were paralyzed for two months, triggering concerns among European consumers.


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