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Press review: Putin may remain president till 2036 and Russia-Palestine rapprochement

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 11

Vedomosti: Putin may remain Russia’s president until 2036

The second reading of the presidential amendments to the Constitution on Tuesday resulted in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unexpected visit to the State Duma (lower house of parliament). The head of state said addressing lawmakers that there would be no snap parliamentary elections and that "resetting to zero" the number of presidential terms was feasible, Vedomosti writes.

MP Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman to fly to space, proposed either lifting restrictions on the number of presidential terms or "resetting to zero" the incumbent president’s terms. A total of 380 lawmakers approved Tereshkova’s initiative, while 43 voted against it.

That gives Putin additional space and ensures that he retains political initiative, the paper quotes Dmitry Badovsky, chairman of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Research (ISEPR), as saying. "The right to be elected does not mean the obligation to be elected. That will depend on the situation in the world and in Russia and on how the government branches will work in the coming years. However, the existence of this right will be a stabilizing and safety mechanism for the system amid its operation under new circumstances," he explained.

The decision on Putin's nomination will be made closer to 2024, and Putin will not necessarily take that opportunity, says political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko. "The ‘resetting to zero’ option seemed to be the easiest one, as well as most understandable and reliable. Moreover, sociologists say that this option enjoys the support of a sizeable part of the population," he said.

On the other hand, Ilya Shablinsky, professor at the Higher School of Economics, believes there are legal problems related to that initiative. From the legal standpoint, enshrining the provision, which will effectively block the restriction on the number of presidential terms for 12 years, would be absurd, he said. "This amendment calls into question the role of the Constitution as such," the expert stressed.


Izvestia: COVID-19 infection can turn chronic

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can turn out to be more dangerous than many thought, Izvestia writes. Scientists have suggested that the disease can morph into a chronic form. Such estimates are based on those reinfection cases, which have been confirmed in China over the past few months.

Pavel Volchkov, head of the Genome Engineering Laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, explained to Izvestia that, in the course of treatment, the immune system usually completely destroys infected cells and kills viruses in the blood. Repeated symptoms indicate that the virus is still present in the human body.

"The virus can come back, because the immune system did not take complete control of it during the acute phase of the disease, and a large number of internal organs were infected. In order not to destroy heavily infected tissues, the immune system chooses the option of ‘cohabitation’ with the virus," the expert said.

For his part, Skoltech Associate Professor Georgy Bazykin believes that the immune system of a person who has recovered from COVID-19 can hardly weaken within such a short period of time. "A technical error is much more likely. Tests are not 100-percent sensitive, and it could happen that a test did not detect the strain," he explained.

According to Olga Karpova, head of the Department of Virology at Moscow State University, development of a chronic form of the infection is not ruled out. "Such a persistent infection is possible. However, the first thing that comes to my mind is a mistake in infection tests, as far as reinfection cases in China are concerned. Anyway, the situation requires further research," she noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: "Deal of the Century" pushes Palestinians towards Russia

Russia has stepped up efforts to reconcile the Palestinian warring factions after the United States unveiled its plan for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement process. Experts believe that the alienation, which emerged between Palestine and the West against the backdrop of the "Deal of the Century" proposed by Washington, has laid the groundwork for Russia’s vigorous mediation efforts, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

A Hamas delegation led by its Political Bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh visited Russia earlier this month to discuss Middle East settlement issues with Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov and Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov.

"Russia is a significant player in the search for consensus, which can be the only solution to the crisis," Grigory Lukyanov, a senior lecturer of the Department of Political Science at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper. "Today, Palestinian leaders are not ready to view the US as a mediator in relations with both Israel and Arab countries, and it is other players that can act as mediators."

Haniyeh’s remarks during the talks in Moscow attest to that as well. According to the politician, Russia is the country, thanks to which a certain balance of forces exists in the region, and which creates a counterbalance to the US-Israeli policies. He also highlighted Russia’s core role in the region, specifically, in resolving the Palestinian crisis.


Izvestia: Damascus urges Syrian refugees to return home

Syria has called on its citizens to return to their home country amid the crisis on the borders between the EU member states and Turkey and not to imperil their lives. The government has opened safe corridors and temporary accommodation centers for returning fellow countrymen and created all necessary conditions for normal life, the Syrian Embassy in Moscow informed Izvestia.

"The countries sponsoring terrorism and Turkey exploit Syrian immigrants using them as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on European countries and the Syrian government," Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad told the paper.

"Damascus urges all Syrians to return home to take part in rebuilding the country. The country needs personnel, its citizens," Vice Chairman of the Syrian parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee Ammar al-Assad told Izvestia.

According to Boris Dolgov, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, those Syrian refugees who are eager to make their way to Europe are unlikely to heed Damascus’ plea. This is largely due to the fact that some of them or members of their families earlier fought alongside opposition groups.

"Syrians are in no hurry to return to their home country largely because the hostilities in Syria are not over yet and also because of their political views," he explained to Izvestia. "However, some of them do return, I personally spoke with them in 2016. These are mostly people who took refuge in Jordan or Lebanon," he said.


Vedomosti: Smartphone sales in Russia grow by 20%

More than 3 million smartphones were sold in Russia in January 2020, that’s a 19.5% increase compared to January 2019, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by a partner company of several electronics manufacturers.

The sales have not grown so fast in January and February for several years, the paper quotes Valeria Andreeva of M.Video-Eldorado Group as saying. Compared to the first two months of last year, the group increased smartphone sales in pieces by 43%, and in rubles — by 30%.

Sales growth stems from potential delays in electronics supplies to Russia because of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the paper quotes Telecom Daily CEO Denis Kuskov as saying. Those consumers who planned to purchase new smartphones decided to do so in January without waiting for prices to grow. Prices could increase by the end of March or the beginning of April because of shortages, he went on to say. The ruble exchange rate is down, coronavirus has not been defeated yet, so one can say that smartphone sales will slow down in 2020, the expert said.

The share of Chinese cell phones in the Russian market is growing, many manufacturers are dependent on Chinese components, so the outbreak of coronavirus infection in China triggered concern among customers in Russia, hence, sales growth, says Infoline Analytics CEO Mikhail Burmistrov.


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