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Press review: US to elbow rivals out of arms market and global inquiry into COVID-19 opens

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, May 20
US President Donald Trump

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump seeks to squeeze Russia, China out of arms market

Rivalry on the global arms market has been on the rise. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the US leadership is ready to step up its military production and the exports of weapons, squeezing Russia and China out of the global market, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. These plans were confirmed when US President Donald Trump suggested that Washington should ease the procedure of selling weapons abroad, saying that this would attract those who are going to buy weapons from Russia and China.

This is not the first time the US leadership is trying to gain the advantage in its rivalry with major global players on the arms market, the paper writes. After 2014, when war broke out in Donbass and Crimea rejoined Russia, the US passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which imposes sanctions on those states, which sign major contracts on purchasing arms and military equipment from Russia.

"Trump plans to retain those steps aimed at reducing the effectiveness of the Russian arms business. He is certainly dissatisfied with the supplies of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft weapon systems to Turkey [launched in 2019]. The US authorities are also angered by the potential supplies of Russian Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt," said Academy of Military Science Correspondent Member Colonel Eduard Rodyukov.

Meanwhile, the military expert is convinced that Trump’s initiative on a simplified procedure of selling arms overseas is unlikely to find broad support among the US public or American politicians. Under US legislation on control over arms exports, all contracts on selling military products to foreign states must be reviewed by Congress for 30 days. The US president is authorized to personally make a decision on fulfilling arms sales contracts only in case of an emergency. However, legislators in Congress are trying to revoke this executive right.

However, retired Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev, a military specialist, notes that the situation is not that simple. "Trump has support in Congress and in society, and most importantly, among defense and industrial circles, for whom the proposal on a simplified procedure of arms sales provides the possibility to produce more military goods, create new jobs and gain extra revenues," he explained. "Amid the spread of the coronavirus infection around the entire world, when many national economies have been virtually stopped, military production is here to stay and this is important. This means that US politicians and the president will search for a consensus on this issue."


Media: World Health Assembly adopts coronavirus inquiry resolution amid US-China spat

At the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva the global community passed a resolution, calling for initiating an "impartial, independent and comprehensive" investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus and how it was transmitted from animals to humans. The document was endorsed amid the raging US-Chinese infowar, which influenced the text and the procedure of adopting it, Kommersant writes.

The resolution is also calling for an investigation into the world's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. China was not mentioned in this context although many politicians had insisted on investigating Beijing’s alleged role in the spread of the coronavirus. Australia even suggested carrying out an independent coronavirus pandemic investigation. China has described the document as its major victory.

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov told Izvestia that Russia did not support the initiative on an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. "This initiative has questions to the WHO. It is less popular and Russia did not back it," he explained. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said the WHO should not turn into a platform for settling political accounts, stressing that Moscow closely cooperates with Beijing and sees no grounds to mistrust its data on the virus.

"The US has its own goals here. Now the narratives are formed regarding the coronavirus and objectively, the US is losing this struggle — statistics shows that China has handled [the virus] better," Kortunov noted. According to Worldometer, the US has recorded 1.5 mln coronavirus cases with over 93,000 deaths, while China has confirmed 82,900 cases and 4,600 deaths. "This is interpreted in the context of US election campaign. Trump is accused of failing to take the pandemic seriously and that’s why it’s important for him to shift the blame on someone else." However, all attempts to punish China will be translated just into unilateral sanctions, he noted.


Izvestia: Anti-coronavirus restrictions affect revenues in 65 Russian regions

The revenues of Russian regions dropped 10% in March and April compared with the same period last year, according to Izvestia’s estimates based on the statistics of the Finance Ministry and the Treasury. In general, the Russian regions have earned 2.2 trillion rubles ($30.3 bln) during these two months, or 10% less, year-on-year.

A total of 65 regions have reported a decline in revenues. Among the most affected Russian regions are Tatarstan, the Perm Region and the Kemerovo Region, which have lost more than 30% in profits when compared with last year. Experts believe that in the coming months the situation is likely to deteriorate.

These three worst-hit Russian regions depend on oil production, refining and petrochemicals, Head of ACRA Regional Ratings Group Elena Anisimova said, noting that in March and April, oil prices dropped and this impacted revenues.

Elena Penukhina, leading expert at the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting, noted that the report on the revenues in March and April reflects the situation seen early this year. In February, Russia’s economy continued working and prices on energy resources were not at this low level. The expert warned that in May and June, the drop in revenues would be more significant. During this period, the budget will receive taxes for the non-working period.

Meanwhile, some Russian regions in March and April saw a rise in revenues. Among the leaders are Chukotka, the Khanty Mansi Autonomous Region - Yugra and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). These regions earned 10 bln rubles ($138 mln), 104 bln rubles ($1.4 bln) and 62 bln rubles ($855 mln), or 70%, 47% and 43% more than a year earlier. The expert attributed the rise in revenues in Chukotka and Yakutia to a significant growth in prices on gold in April.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Deal between Afghan politicians offers no hope for peace

After Afghanistan’s political leaders signed a long-awaited deal on separating powers, the international community called on Kabul to reach out to the Taliban (outlawed in Russia). The parties to the armed conflict should complete an anticipated prisoner swap in order to get the opportunity to shift to the next stage of reconciliation, which is direct dialogue on the country’s future. However, the current pace of the peace process leaves some doubt that Kabul and the Taliban will start talks, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported.

"Now, when Dr. Abdullah has become part of the government, the intra-Afghan talks will depend on his relations with Ghani," Omar Nessar, a senior fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, told the newspaper. "But the intra-Afghan talks will be viewed in Kabul as a threat to the incumbent cabinet of ministers and Abdullah is not expected to make great efforts towards launching them. The situation could change in the event the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire by the start of the dialogue." The analyst recalls that the Taliban still views Abdullah as an opposition politician.

The delay in launching the direct dialogue between the conflicting parties is becoming more dangerous as the foreign contingent is leaving the Islamic Republic’s territory, which served as a restraining element, the paper writes.

The direct dialogue cannot start without completing the prisoner swap, which has been put on hold. Kabul has earlier refused to continue the process until the Taliban releases at least 200 Afghan troops.


Izvestia: 17% of companies ready to keep remote working in Russia

One in six companies plans to allow some of their staff to keep working from home even when the anti-coronavirus restrictions are lifted, according to a survey by conducted exclusively for Izvestia. According to experts, remote work is the cheapest means of protecting personnel. This could be the best option for a large number of companies because just a few businessmen are ready to invest in equipping offices with additional room dividers or provide staff with face masks, the paper says.

Some 1,000 representatives of Russian companies, including top managers, HR directors, recruiters and HR managers took part in the survey. Nearly 31% of those surveyed said they were not planning to introduce extra measures to protect their staff after the lockdown is lifted. Some 42% of companies plan to clean and disinfect work premises more often. Less than one-third of companies are ready to take the temperature of its staff and make wearing masks and gloves compulsory. Another 31% of firms are planning to provide their personnel with hand sanitizers.

Just 8% of companies are going to change their offices and reequip work spaces, install special room dividers and introduce markers to ensure people keep their distance.

Most companies (34%) believe that they could resume normal work by mid-summer, while 19% of others expect this to happen in autumn. Some 18% of respondents hope to return to normal activity by the end of summer. Another 14% were less optimistic about the prospects, saying they could start working normally not earlier than by the end of this year.

Commercial Director at the Management Faculty of Synergy University Lyumila Zheltuhina noted that given the drop in revenues, even small expenses on reequipping offices could be overwhelming for businesses. In this case, remote work could be the cheapest means of not subjecting staff to the risk of contracting the infection.


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