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Press review: Russia’s stance on Israel’s annexation move and Merkel’s boost from COVID-19

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, May 19
 A general view of the of the Jordan valley between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea EPA-EFE/ATEF SAFADI
A general view of the of the Jordan valley between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea


Izvestia: Russia urges Israel to refrain from escalating tensions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country’s parliament on May 17 that the time had come to extend national sovereignty to the Palestinian territories in the Jordan Valley, the historical place from where the Jewish people had emerged. Russia is calling on Israel to prevent regional tensions from escalating, Izvestia wrote.

According to Sergei Melkonyan from the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Netanyahu’s decision to annex the Jordan Valley is not an attempt to divert the public’s attention from his upcoming trial and the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister has secured the coalition government’s support on the matter and won’t face any trouble as far as lawmakers are concerned, the expert noted.

Russia sees no alternative to resolving the Middle East issue other than through political means and has urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, Chairman of the Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told the paper. Moscow won’t support the EU’s plans to impose sanctions on Israel for the seizure of Palestinian territories. Only the UN Security Council has the right to introduce restrictions, the senator pointed out.

The Israeli prime minister's statement sparked a vigorous international response. King Abdullah II of Jordan warned in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel that if Israel annexed part of the Jordan Valley, a large-scale conflict could break out.

However, an armed conflict with Israel is unlikely to take place, said Head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center of the Near and Middle East Vladimir Fitin. "Arab and other Muslim countries won’t go beyond condemnations and there will be no direct armed conflict because no one will benefit from it," the expert explained.

According to Fitin, European Union countries are unlikely to agree on sanctions against Israel because such decisions are made through consensus and Eastern European nations such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania have a friendlier attitude towards Israel and will not support such tough moves. Besides, the EU will also face pressure from the United States, Israel’s main ally on the international stage.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Coronavirus may boost Merkel’s chances of fifth term

With the coronavirus epidemic in Germany fading, there are increasing calls that Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been running the country for nearly 15 years, should seek a fifth term. However, Merkel stepped down as head of the ruling Christian Democratic Union in the fall of 2018 and firmly stated that she would leave politics after the next parliamentary election, which is set to take place in 2021, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

German political scientist Alexander Rahr in an interview with the newspaper assessed Merkel’s chances of remaining in power.

According to him, the odds for this scenario are mounting. Germany is going through a major crisis. The chancellor managed to organize an effective coronavirus lockdown that made it possible to prevent high death rates. And though Merkel presented these measures as a joint decision of the federal government and the regional authorities, everyone understands that she is personally responsible, the expert explained.

On the other hand, the government has allocated huge amounts of money to support the population. Unlike the migration crisis, where Merkel was guided by liberal ideas, the coronavirus situation made her look like a politician working for her fellow citizens. At the same time, none of the incumbent chancellor’s rivals have demonstrated themselves to be an effective leader in the eyes of the public.

Meanwhile, Germany will take over the European Union’s presidency on July 1 and will have to try to pull the union out of a deep economic rut. Many believe that the very future of the European project is at stake. If Merkel succeeds in uniting Europe, her authority will skyrocket, the expert emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Mounting US LNG exports deal blow to Russian gas

The gas market in various parts of the world is undergoing a redivision. In particular, gas suppliers are currently locking horns in Turkey, where the share of US liquified natural gas (LNG) is growing and the shares of Russian and Iranian gas are declining. It won’t be easy to maintain demand for pipeline gas in the future, because LNG prices are often lower than those of pipeline gas, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Russian gas supplies to Turkey sank 40% in 2019, according to news agencies’ estimates, while LNG supplies kept increasing. They accounted for 44% of all gas supplies to the country in the first four months of 2020, and 40% of those supplies came from the United States. It looks like Western Europe is also losing interest in Russian gas as supplies fell by nine percent in 2019.

Experts point to long-term trends on the gas market in light of the LNG boom. "The future belongs to LNG. It is a more mobile and marketable product. It is also important for the global economy, because its development boosts several other industries, including the construction of liquefaction plants, LNG regasification terminals and special vessels. Furthermore, it leads to technological changes in the energy sector, new investment and the creation of new high-skilled jobs. The pipeline gas industry cannot offer that much impetus to other sectors," Finam analyst Alexey Kalachev pointed out.

"Russian gas prices have been higher than those of US LNG, so the gradual decline in supplies comes as no surprise. Qatar is also playing a role on the gas market at the moment, supplying LNG to Turkey. If Qatar cuts prices and starts a price war, it will stall the market in the long run," warns Nikita Ryabinin of KRK Group.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: COVID-19 is ‘here to stay’, claims WHO envoy

The 73rd World Health Assembly has kicked off in Geneva via a video conference. All 194 members of the World Health Organization (WHO) are invited to participate. Ahead of the event, WHO Envoy to Russia Melita Vujnovic spoke with Rossiyskaya Gazeta about easing coronavirus restrictions in Russia and chances for a vaccine to be created.

According to Vujnovic, Russia took all necessary measures to contain the epidemic. "Your country has a very strong epidemiological service and lost no time in preventing the virus from spreading," she pointed out. The WHO envoy added that the effective actions of the country’s epidemiological agencies had kept the healthcare system from being overburdened. "There are enough ventilators and hospital beds. Self-isolation measures have also played their part, so we hope that a downward trend in infections will persist," Vujnovic noted.

She pointed out that the WHO had developed guidelines for easing restrictions, proving them to all countries. "Russia is taking these recommendations into account. If all restrictions are lifted too early, a second outbreak may begin, turning out to be even stronger. It can take people and the healthcare system by surprise.

Unfortunately, the virus is here to stay," she said. Necessary protective measures include social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing. "The measures may cause inconvenience to people but they will help keep the virus under control this and next year, until stable herd immunity is achieved or a vaccine is created," the WHO official stressed.

More than 100 vaccines have been put forward. Some of them already are in clinical trials. "We have high hopes for vaccine developers across the world because if only one country or one producer starts making a vaccine, it would be of little help. It is a collective process. We expect that vaccines suitable for mass production will be created this year," Vujnovic emphasized.


Vedomosti: Mask-wearing can’t stop makeup lovers from buying lipstick

Retail cosmetic stores were shut down in Russia on March 28 as part of the lockdown measures to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. Many regions of the country have mandated the wearing of protective face masks and gloves on transport and in public places. Meanwhile, the demand for cosmetics has exploded, Vedomosti writes.

Perfume and makeup are the best stress relievers, which is why their consumption is not declining, said Reed Exhibitions Russia Director General Anna Dycheva-Smirnova. There is the so-called Lipstick Index, she pointed out, adding that lipstick sales tended to rise in times of crisis. In the fall of 2001, after 9/11, lipstick sales in the United States increased by 11%, the expert specified. The reason is that lipstick is a cheaper alternative to clothing, footwear and accessories that women wouldn’t dare to purchase when the financial situation is unclear.

Self-isolation doesn’t mean there are no business meetings because many businesses continue to operate remotely, holding online conferfences, Financial Director at Fashion Consulting Group Anush Gasparyan noted. Clearly, women would like to look good on camera and they could have run out of some makeup items during the two months of the quarantine.

However, the trend is somewhat surprising, Dycheva-Smirnova said. The global demand for makeup has been falling in recent years because the new generation of young girls - Generation Z - isn’t wearing much makeup.

There are two options for the industry’s future development, the expert noted. On the one hand, cosmetic items can start flying off the shelves once Russians re-emerge from self-isolation, but on the other hand, we may see a new post-coronavirus reality, where declining incomes will force people to cut their spending.


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