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Press review: WHO commends Russia’s COVID-19 fight and Saudis seek to end Yemen war

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 1

Izvestia: OPEC+ deal set to expire

The coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of the OPEC+ output cut deal have led to an oversupply of oil on world markets. The current OPEC+ platform will hardly be effective in improving the situation, and experts interviewed by Izvestia don’t rule out that the deal could be expanded to involve the United States. In this regard, US President Donald Trump’s phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and their discussion of the oil market situation look meaningful.

"Oil prices of $20-30 per barrel are putting pressure on markets, making weaker players and expensive oil producers nervous," Viktor Shcheglov from BCS Broker pointed out. "There are two ways out of the situation: through cooperation, which means involving the Americans in the OPEC+ deal, or through pressure on Russia and Saudi Arabia, which would particularly include the threat of sanctions. For now, we can see the US moving in both directions and it is unclear which one will prevail," the expert concluded.

Russian oil companies proved their high production capabilities and financial sustainability during the 2014-2016 crisis and during the sanctions period. However, under the current circumstances, all oil producers are going to face hard times. This is why the sooner the OPEC+ group is revived, the less damage the crisis will inflict on the global economy, analysts note.

Meanwhile, Skolkovo Energy Center expert Yekaterina Grushevenko believes that the OPEC+ group won’t be able to balance the market alone because its members simply will not agree to significantly reduce oil production.

"There can be new and wider forms of cooperation that would bring more oil producing countries together in a bid to balance the market. However, given the economic crisis and the oil price war, it looks unlikely at the moment," the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: WHO official commends Russia’s steps to contain coronavirus spread

Russia was able to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and now everything will depend on the public’s willingness to cooperate with the government and abide by its decisions, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Russia Melita Vujnovic told Izvestia.

"The WHO, together with authorities and researchers from all countries, is now analyzing what measures have been taken across the globe and how they are working. We can see that some countries have been able to slow down the epidemic. There are some positive examples, including South Korea, Singapore and some others. However, the epidemic still continues and it will be possible to draw final conclusions only when it’s over," she pointed out. "Russia did well in slowing down the outbreak. I hope that the additional measures that have been taken recently will end the spread of the infection and the incidence of the disease will start decreasing," the WHO official added.

When speaking about the effectiveness of the Russian authorities’ move to declare a week off work, Vujnovic noted that as far as the final results were concerned, the public’s behavior would be crucial. "Everything depends on how people will behave. The most important thing is to keep them from spreading the infection to each other. Sometimes, unfortunately, coercive measures are necessary," she said. At the same time, the WHO envoy emphasized that countries were taking different steps to contain the epidemic, depending on their social, economic and cultural traditions and the population’s willingness to cooperate with the government, complying with measures aimed at preventing the infection from spreading.

In response to a question about the need to bring changes to the WHO’s future activities in order to better understand how to act in such situations, Vujnovic noted that "this time, the WHO acted in the most meaningful way, but our organization doesn’t have the authority to punish." "Unfortunately, it is not in the World Health Organization’s power to make countries abide by its recommendations. Nevertheless, some conclusions will be drawn after the pandemic is over. The issue will be discussed at the World Health Assembly and we expect that the world will learn a lesson from the pandemic," the WHO official stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Saudi Arabia seeks to end costly war in Yemen

Saudi Arabia has decided to end its long, drawn-out conflict with Yemen. According to Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jaber, Riyadh has invited Houthi rebels to sit down for peace talks, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Experts don’t rule out that declining oil prices are the reason behind Riyadh’s willingness to hold negotiations, however, they point out that there are likely to be other causes too.

"A thing to note is that the military and political situation in Yemen has changed a lot over the past several months," said Grigory Lukyanov, a senior lecturer with the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Higher School of Economics’ School of Political Science. "Pro-Saudi forces — President Hadi’s army — have faced significant military and political failures in the Yemeni provinces of Al-Jowf and Mareb," he said, adding that the latter was an important transportation and economic hub.

As a result of the rebels' military activities, crucial transport routes and oilfields were put in danger and Hadi’s army lost access to key supplies. "The United Arab Emirates, who actually pulled out of the conflict in 2019, left Saudi Arabia in charge of the operation. Under the current climate, the Yemeni campaign is just too much to take for Riyadh," Lukyanov pointed out.

That said, some Saudi politicians may now be willing to embrace the need to make agreements with the Houthis. "It is a sore point for the [Saudi Crown] prince, his cabinet and his close circle, but given the current developments, spending more money on the Yemeni conflict in order to keep the status quo in place seems to be an intolerable burden for Saudi Arabia," the expert said, adding: "The price the country is paying for the conflict is too high."


Kommersant: Fashion industry to face hard times

As Russians are self-isolating due to the spread of the coronavirus, fashion retailers are going to have to cope with tough times. Sales of clothing, shoes and accessories are expected to plunge by 20-30% depending on how long the lockdown lasts. A surge in online trade will not improve the situation though it may double by the end of the year, Kommersant wrote, citing figures from Infoline-Analytics.

Infoline-Analytics Director General Mikhail Burmistrov believes that apart from a decline in luxury good sales, retailers need to be ready for a consumer shift towards buying low-priced items. Small and medium-sized retailers are unlikely to get through the crisis, said Irina Bolotova, a consultant at Jos de Vries The Retail Company.

"Online trade will grow by at least ten percent this year but it will only partially offset the losses that offline retail stores will face," Maxim Bakhtin from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) pointed out.

Russia is not the only country expected to see a slump in sales. According to BCG, the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a 25-percent decline on the global fashion market. BCG analysts forecast that sluggish fashion demand will become a trend in the post-pandemic world and the industry will not be able to restore its pre-crisis revenues in the near future.

Lamoda Director of Strategy Pavel Orlov does not rule out that it will take Russia’s fashion market at least several years to return to the 2019 figures. Bolotova agreed, saying: "A massive wave of unemployment is about to hit Russia as up to eight million people will lose their jobs. Clothing, travels, electronic devices and restaurants will recede into the background."


Izvestia: COVID-19 panic drives two-thirds of Russians into depression

News stories about coronavirus restrictions, rising infection numbers and dire future predictions have sent 75% of Russians into a state of depression, Izvestia writes, citing a poll conducted by the project and the Vse Apteki (or All Pharmacies) service.

The current atmosphere in Russia and the world is bringing people down. However, there are some who are not upset about the pandemic. A total of 17% of the poll's participants said they did not care about the situation, and another seven percent were confident that the coronavirus was nothing but fiction. At the same time, 85% of those polled said they had started to wash their hands more often, 49% cut contacts with other people, and 23% began wearing surgical masks.

People usually support reasonable measures that governments take in emergency situations, Vice-President of the Association of Communication Agencies of Russia Alexei Andreyev pointed out. "Humans have a herd instinct and it has nothing to do with their country’s level of development. The government has authority. People have now found themselves in an unusual situation, which is definitely an emergency. The instinct for self-preservation tells them: there are too many experts saying different things but will they be able to protect me and my family when trouble comes? And this is where an unconscious desire to turn to a superior comes in. And the state will always be the superior," Andreyev explained.

There is also a positive side to the current situation. In particular, telecommuting can help employees improve their skills because it requires self-discipline and the ability to set priorities, Alena Orekhova, a psychoanalyst at 1C-Bitrix noted. However, in her words, there is no need to closely follow the latest news and flashy headlines because it negatively affects one's psychological well-being.


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