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Press review: Microsoft’s ‘free’ offer to Russia and EU’s stance on Iran arms embargo

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, May 15

Izvestia: Nuke deal participants support removal of Iran arms embargo

Berlin and Paris support the removal of the Iran arms embargo in October, though cautiously, officials from the German and French foreign ministries told Izvestia. A Russian senator, in turn, pointed out that there was no reason to extend the embargo.

A ban on Iranian arms exports and imports was included in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. According to the document, Iran needs the UN Security Council's approval to buy and sell weapons. In fact, it turned into an arms embargo because the US can veto such deals as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The embargo is set to expire in October 2020 but the United States intends to make sure that it is extended.

Washington insists that despite its withdrawal from the nuclear deal, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 makes it clear that the US still is one of the deal’s participants and has the right to invoke a snapback mechanism within the JCPOA. Moscow does not agree with such an approach.

Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev emphasized the need to oppose Washington’s pressure. He said that the US continued to demonize Iran and blackmail UN Security Council members. "Moscow will never take action beyond the Security Council's resolutions but likewise, Russia will never encourage actions that violate these resolutions," the senator pointed out.

Meanwhile, if Washington fails to extend the arms embargo, there is a good chance that it will impose sanctions on countries selling weapons to Iran, PIR Center expert Andrei Baklitsky said. According to him, the US won’t even need to pass new laws to do it because the current US sanctions on Tehran already include all the measures that it may need. "If you decide to sell weapons to Iran, you will have to establish financial relations with Iran’s Central Bank, and this will automatically fall under US sanctions, as well as deals with Iran’s armed forces and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," the expert explained. He also noted that Tehran was not in the best position to purchase weapons as it had been affected by the oil price plunge, sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Global pandemic not stopping US Army from holding drills along Russian borders

Russia’s unilateral ban on military drills along Western countries’ borders has entered its second month. Meanwhile, NATO’s Open Spirit 2020 exercise was completed off Latvia’s coast on May 14. In addition, the alliance plans to hold a European exercise dubbed Allied Spirit. According to NATO’s top brass, it will be a smaller-scale version of the Defender Europe 2020 drills that were expected to take place in April, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. analyst Dmitry Semushin believes that one of the Defender Europe 2020 exercise’s goals was to practice the transfer of US troops to Europe and the deployment of NATO forces along Russia’s borders. The exercise had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic though 6,000 US troops had been deployed to Europe in March. According to official information, apart from the Americans, the Allied Spirit drills will also involve Polish troops.

"I think that the drills set to be held in Poland will largely involve warplanes, including US strategic bombers," military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told the newspaper. He pointed out that NATO countries had already begun to practice such scenarios. Gareyeev emphasized that two US Air Force B-1 Lancer bombers had carried out a bombing exercise at Estonia’s Tapa Range during the Spring Storm 2020 drills on May 6. "The range is located about 100 kilometers from the Leningrad region’s border," the expert noted.

"I don’t think that the Russian Defense Ministry will stand idly by and watch the activities of the US and other NATO countries," military expert Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev said. "I am sure that the ban preventing the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets from holding drills along NATO’s borders will be removed by June 1, when a new training period begins in the Army and the Navy," the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Coronavirus pandemic has China focusing on social stability

Millions of Chinese people have lost their sources of regular income because of the coronavirus pandemic. Migrant workers and owners of small businesses are not eligible to receive government financial assistance though they have been hit the hardest by the quarantine-related economic downturn. Moreover, the country’s authorities fear that protests may break out, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The problem is with the most vulnerable group of the population, which includes about 300 mln workers who move from the relatively poor inner regions of the country to the coastal provinces. Some of the migrants get jobs at large export-oriented factories, while others work in small businesses that create the majority of jobs in the country.

Head of the School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economy Andrei Karneyev told the newspaper that "it is important for China to show that it can handle the epidemic and its economic consequences." "We know that China's economy shrank by 6.7-6.8% in the first quarter of the year. The country will see an economic revival in the second quarter but according to various estimates, the growth rate will range between 3% and 5.5% at the end of the year, which is worse than pre-pandemic expectations. However, China will be in a better position than other large economies," the expert noted.

Karneyev went on to say that the unemployment rate had indeed skyrocketed in the first quarter but that was mostly private businesses. "This is a sector that caused and continues to cause the greatest concern to the country's leadership. Nevertheless, China managed to overcome the crisis at the time," he pointed out.

According to the commentator, China is unlikely to face social instability because 85% to 90% of the economy is working again. Small businessmen and temporary workers are facing pressure but there are two factors that need to be taken into account. China is sitting on a huge amount of money and has experience in dealing with this kind of crises. In addition, the strictly organized party and government chain of command makes it possible to suppress unrest. This is why the country is unlikely to face shocks, the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Microsoft offers ‘free‘ services to Russian government

US-based tech giant Microsoft has suggested providing its products and services to Russia to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The government will have at least six months of free access. However, Russian software developers believe the idea is a threat to national security, Kommersant writes.

The products in question include cloud services for remote work and shared access, services ensuring cyber security and coronavirus situation analysis, as well as solutions for medical facilities.

Director of the Russian Association of Software Developers Renat Lashin believes that Western vendors seek to take advantage of the pandemic and spur on violations of several Russian laws. In particular, Microsoft’s initiative means that critical data from Russia’s state agencies, medical and educational facilities will be stored and processed overseas. Besides, in Lashin’s words, accepting such an initiative would amount to killing the domestic software industry.

In the past, Microsoft had no rivals in Russia as far as traditional markets go, but as for new markets, including remote access solutions, Russian companies are capable of competing with the US tech behemoth, Russoft Association President Valentin Makarov pointed out. Another thing to note is that extending Microsoft’s licenses may turn out to be more expensive than the use of similar Russian technologies, Development Director at TrueConf Dmitry Odintsov stressed.

According to Ivan Begtin, the founder of the Information Culture independent nonprofit organization, though many governments work with Microsoft, the Russian authorities are hardly ready to strike major deals with the corporation, given the amount of money already spent on the development of domestic products, including cloud services.


Izvestia: Doctors warn about suicidal tendencies among coronavirus patients

A group of medical professionals from Tokyo have penned an open letter emphasizing the need to carefully monitor the psychological health of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. They emphasized that the SARS and MERS outbreaks had led to suicides among patients, Izvestia wrote.

Russian experts point out that the risk of suicide among hospitalized patients does exist but it is a rare occurrence. "The risk of suicide may result from an extreme condition based on many factors," Head of the Psychological Service at Tomsk State University Azamat Naiman explained. "If patients face significant financial losses, social problems, strained family relations, stigmatization, a lack of support and related mental disorders, then the risk increases," he elaborated.

Suicidal behavior may somehow be fueled by the general coronavirus hysteria, head of the social and psychological care team at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Tatyana Yudina told the paper. According to her, high-strung individuals are in this risk group.

The latest recommendations on treating coronavirus highlight the importance of psychological assistance, Senior Lecturer at Tyumen State University's Department of General and Social Psychology Olga Dubrovina noted. "Our Chinese colleagues say that based on research, 48% of confirmed patients suffer from psychological stress after being admitted to the hospital," she said.

Experts warn about the need to monitor the psychological and emotional state of hospitalized patients also because the stress can exacerbate their illness.


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