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Press review: US, Iran move to the brink of war and will Covid-19 affect counter-sanctions

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 24
Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels sailing close to US military ships in the Persian Gulf U.S. Navy via AP
Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels sailing close to US military ships in the Persian Gulf
© U.S. Navy via AP

Kommersant: Russia’s upper house to analyze counter-sanctions law

The Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) has set up a working group that will come up with options for legislative amendments due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kommersant has found out that legislators plan to discuss efforts to reduce the tax burden and analyze the application of the counter-sanctions law. The group will present its proposals by May 15.

"A working group is needed to ensure the coordination of the work by specialized committees," Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev confirmed to the paper.

He noted that the committee, in particular, would identify the best practices of foreign experience to improve national legislation amid the pandemic. According to Kosachev, the committee also plans to analyze the experience of applying the 2018 approved counter-sanctions law.

"Without questioning its effectiveness, we would like to check how it works under the new circumstances from the viewpoint of the interests of Russian businesses, which are experiencing additional pressure that did not exist before," he added.

"The Federation Council needs to identify problems, such as the discrepancy between the federal and regional administrative sanctions, the problems of protecting privacy against the backdrop of digital control methods, violations of labor rights and the problems related to applying anti-crisis laws," the paper quotes political commentator Alexander Pozhalov as saying.


Izvestia: US, Iran on the verge of a naval war

Tensions between the world’s two long-standing geopolitical adversaries, the United States and Iran, are reaching a new level, Izvestia writes. In a recent Twitter post, US President Donald Trump threatened "to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats, if they harass our ships at sea." Several recent confrontations could result in the exacerbation of relations between Washington and Tehran and growing tensions in the entire Gulf region.

The reason for Trump’s statement could be the April 15 incident in the Persian Gulf off the Kuwaiti coast, when Iranian naval ships conducted dangerous maneuvers close to US warships. Later on, Iran pinned the blame for the incident on the United States, arguing that American warships were hindering the military exercises.

Adlan Margoev, an analyst with the Institute of International Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), explained to Izvestia that Washington’s accusations were nothing more than an attempt to use political discourse to prevent the UN Security Council from lifting the arms embargo imposed on Iran.

"This is the United States’ open policy, it announced that itself. It will do its utmost to make sure that this embargo is not lifted. That’s why it will accuse Iran, even if that country did not violate anything," the expert stressed.

Meanwhile, Sergei Sudakov, a member of the Academy of Military Sciences, stressed to the paper that a military standoff between the two countries was quite possible.

"The United States can resort to a military standoff with Iran. They [the Americans] realize that, given the current situation, it is unlikely that someone will support Iran," he said. A confrontation with Iran could yield good dividends, and "Trump is just testing the waters to see how Iranian politicians react and, based on that, he will draw conclusions on whether or not to move on to provocations or freeze the conflict for some time," the expert noted.


Kommersant: American LNG becoming too expensive for Europe and Asia

Consumers in Europe and Asia have begun to abandon batches of US liquefied natural gas to be delivered in June amid falling gas prices, Kommersant writes. At the same time, domestic gas prices are on the rise due to expectations that production will decline. This combination could lead to the shutdown of a considerable part of gas liquefaction facilities in the United States and limit the flow of these volumes to Europe.

However, it will be difficult for Russia’s energy giant Gazprom to replace them with its own gas, since there is virtually no additional demand for it.

The number of drilling rigs on gas assets has been declining since early 2019. During this period, the existing well stock more than halved, the paper quotes Vygon Consulting Analyst Ekaterina Kolbikova as saying. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the production of associated petroleum gas is decreasing as well due to the low activity of oil well drilling and diminished capital expenditures by oil companies. According to the expert, commercial gas production accounts for a substantial proportion in the production of shale gas — about 40% or 15% of the total gas production in the United States. "Therefore, the expectation of a more substantial drop in oil production may trigger a rise in domestic gas prices in the United States," she stressed.

The share of American LNG in the first quarter maintained a consistently high level, that is 15% of global trade, while in April it fell to 13%, Kolbikova went on to say. The operational efficiency of LNG producers in the United States will be stable as long as a high level of enterprise workload is maintained. The expert added that she did not expect the current situation to slow down the commissioning of new liquefaction facilities in the United States, if investment decisions have been made on them.


Izvestia: COVID-19 epidemic in Russia may peak in May, say specialists

The recent slowdown in Russia’s coronavirus incidences offers hope that the situation is gradually moving towards stabilization, Alexander Lukashev, Director of the Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector-borne Diseases at Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, told Izvestia.

"Evidently, we are seeing a slowdown in the growth of the incidence rate, and the situation has become more controllable. However, the growth rate remains high — over 5% per day. When it falls below that figure, the total number of patients will gradually begin to decrease," he explained.

The virologist warned, however, that the question of whether the incidence peak has been reached depends on what is meant by that.

"Epidemiologists estimate the peak by the growth rate and the number of new cases. On the other hand, doctors’ estimates are based on the total number of infected people. For them, the hospital occupancy rate and the pressure on the healthcare system are the most important factors. I believe the load on the healthcare system will begin to decrease after the May holidays," Lukashev specified.

He noted that the current lockdown restrictions would not be lifted in the immediate future, adding that a ban on mass events could last for months.

In turn, Chief Physician of the Leader-Medicine medical center Yevgeny Timakov likewise stressed to Izvestia that there would be an increase in the number of coronavirus cases within the next two weeks. "In the event of a favorable scenario, Moscow should have no more than 100 cases per day by the end of June, and Russia in general, no more than 500 cases per day by the end of July. If that is the case, by the end of August new cases will be isolated occurrences, and Russia will come out of the epidemiological process," he pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow’s support remains essential for Pyongyang

On April 25, 2019, the first and so far the only meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was held in Vladivostok, Alexander Zhebin, Director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, wrote in his article published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Putin stressed after the meeting that the talks had been held in a constructive and friendly atmosphere. For his part, Kim reaffirmed his determination to carry on the policy of Korean-Russian friendship and take bilateral relations to a new level.

"Many news commentators noted that the North Korean leader travelled to Russia for the first time in more than seven years after coming to power, and after he had met with US President Donald Trump twice. <…> The ‘logical’ conclusion from these observations was the assertion about Russia’s allegedly ‘marginal’ role in resolving the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue," the expert stressed.

"It seems that the West cannot understand and put up with the fact that Moscow is capable of offering much more realistic approaches to resolving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula," he pointed out.

"Judging by the practical actions of Russian diplomacy, Kim Jong-un managed to gain an understanding of his approach towards solving the denuclearization problem step by step, through mutually synchronized concessions. After the unsuccessful Hanoi summit, where this North Korean line encountered the American idea of a ‘big deal,’ under which the DPRK must first completely disarm and only then expect that its concerns will be taken into account, such support from Moscow was essential for Pyongyang," the expert concluded.


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