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Press review: Can the George Floyd protests tilt the election and fuel spill hits Siberia

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, June 4
A view of the site of a diesel fuel spill at Norilsk's Combined Heat and Power Plant No 3 Andrei Marmyshev/TASS
A view of the site of a diesel fuel spill at Norilsk's Combined Heat and Power Plant No 3
© Andrei Marmyshev/TASS

Media: Russia declares state of emergency after huge oil spill in the Arctic

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into a river near the Siberian city of Norilsk. This spill could be considered the largest one in the Russian Arctic. While the company and officials point accusing fingers for the sluggish steps on dealing with the oil spill, experts believe that the incident could affect the region’s environment for years to come. For Nornickel, the incident will result in fines to the tune of dozens of billions rubles, while other companies in the Arctic could face tougher regulations, the Kommersant business daily writes.

According to Nornickel, the permafrost soil thawing had caused damage to the storage tank and this is the culprit for the incident. Meanwhile, melting permafrost is a well-known phenomenon and it is unclear whether any monitoring of the storage tank had been conducted. "The storage tank is many years old and works are conducted in the permafrost so monitoring should take place on a permanent basis and the question is whether it had been carried out," Director of the Ecology Institute of the Higher School of Economics Boris Morgunov told the newspaper.

Nornickel says that the oil spill will be cleaned up in 10-14 days, although Natural Resources Minister Dmitry Kobylkin voiced doubts whether the elimination was possible. Head of Russia's environmental watchdog, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, Svetlana Radionova, has estimated the damage "at possibly hundreds of billions rubles." According to her, if the cleanup effort could take two weeks, the remediation of the contaminated area could take several years. The incident could trigger consequences for all businesses working in the Arctic, Kommersant writes.

Director of the Water Problems Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Danilov-Danilyan told Izvestia that this is not the first such incident in Russia. In 1997, an oil spill occurred in the Komi Republic as a result of a pipeline leak. Russia then had to obtain a $90-mln loan from the World Bank to deal with the consequences. "In Norilsk, diesel fuel has spilled, which is denser and spills more slowly, and it is easier to collect it," Danilov-Danilyan said, adding that no robots have been invented to do this and the effort would be carried out manually.


Izvestia: How the George Floyd protests will impact America’s presidential election

The wave of protests that have swept across hundreds of US cities after George Floyd, an African-American Minneapolis man, was murdered by police during his arrest is not going to stop now. The demonstrations and turmoil, which often result in looting, have affected business and could sharpen the political divide in the US ahead of the November presidential election, Izvestia writes.

The ruling Republican Party and the Democratic Party differ in their response to the situation. While the Republicans mostly focus on the vandalism and looting during the unrest, the Democrats in Congress highlight that Floyd’s death was a tragedy caused by the no-win social and economic circumstances that African-Americans have to battle with daily.

Meanwhile, Trump voters have shown many times that they are ready to forgive him for a lot of things. Russian political scientist Dmitry Drobnitsky told Izvestia that "a miracle" is needed to really change their political preferences. "For example, crucial changes in the social and economic situation or at least the creation of public movements, which could be indeed massive and show the vicious cycle, in which many black communities in the US have found themselves."

Before the November presidential polls, the US will hold elections to Congress and also elect governors in 11 states. "There may well be a serious shake-up of the Congress and the governor’s corps, which may resemble what happened in 2014," Drobnitsky noted. In the long term, the balance between political forces could be redistributed. Many believe that the protests were organized by extreme left-wingers and it’s logical to suggest that the left wing of the Democratic Party will be reinforced, he noted.


Kommersant: Russia steps up contacts with Libya’s warring sides

The increased fighting in Libya comes amid growing diplomatic activity around the country. The forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) retook the Tripoli airport, declaring it liberated from the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The commander headed to Cairo while the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is going to Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry also hosted the talks with the GNA’s delegation. The visit was held amid growing complaints against Moscow from Tripoli and the West over active support for Haftar’s forces, Kommersant says.

Obviously, Moscow is afraid that the US could have a mounting influence on the settlement to the Libyan conflict. Washington, which after a short break stepped up its activity in Libya, is doing its utmost to discredit Russia as a player in the region. In particular, the US has accused Moscow of helping Haftar’s forces by providing them with military aircraft, mercenaries and money.

Another highlight of the Moscow talks was to confirm that Russian businesses are ready to resume their activity in Libya once the military and political situation normalizes there. Moscow stresses that the key obstacle for developing bilateral cooperation is the detention of two Russians — sociologist Maxim Shugalei and his interpreter, who were arrested in Tripoli in May 2019.

"Building dialogue with Tripoli is a step in the right direction, which could balance Russian policy that has been focused on the East lately. But it is important to understand that without solving the key issues of releasing the Russians, who were jailed largely on false accusations, no real improvement in ties between Moscow and the GNA should be expected," Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the Moscow Policy Group Yuri Barmin told the paper.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov believes that the visit of the GNA’s delegation means that Moscow and Ankara have decided to relaunch the Berlin process in order to play leading roles in it.


Izvestia: Oil likely to rise to $45 if OPEC+ deal is extended

The price of oil has climbed to $40 per barrel. The demand for energy supplies in China and among some other major Asian consumers has nearly returned to pre-crisis levels, while European countries are ending the hot phase of their battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The most vivid example is Italy, which has nearly lifted quarantine restrictions and is preparing to host tourists. The demand for gas, oil and petroleum products will gradually revive.

Against this background, OPEC+ states agreed on a new meeting in June, which could result in a decision on extending the current oil cut deal for one or two months. Experts questioned by Izvestia declined to estimate whether this agreement was possible. However, if it is achieved oil could rise to $43 or $45 per barrel.

"Now, fuel prices are rising due to the investors’ expectations that OPEC+ will again decide to cut output in order to ensure that the barrel price remains at $40 for a long time," analyst at AMarket Artem Deyev said. Another landmark event is the growing price for Urals oil, Russia’s major export oil brand, which is usually sold with a discount. The news demonstrates surging demand for Russian oil. One of Russia’s competitive advantages in the current conditions is its powerful pipelines, which could ship oil to European and Asian markets without concerns over the price of freight and oil tankers.

Meanwhile, Russia and Saudi Arabia are demonstrating an unequal growth in demand, which explains various interests in the framework of the current deal. Russia has shown greater resilience towards the crisis, and therefore it’s not in Moscow’s interests to extend the maximum oil output cut. However, Riyadh is experiencing difficulties and seeks to extend the quotas on production. Saudi Arabia believes that given the current conditions, the increase in output under the earlier reached agreements would only harm it and its allies.

Besides, there are some countries, which, unlike Russia, have failed to meet their commitments under the OPEC+ deal. Some even think that the OPEC+ meeting could not be held over the violations of quotas by certain countries.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West, Russia turn their backs on Belarusian leader

Europe is turning up the heat on Belarus and warned of a possible reinstatement of sanctions. Previously, this situation had forced Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to seek Russia’s assistance. But now he cannot do so since he has made too many claims against his ally. Things have developed in a way that the Belarusian president could be left alone without any partners, or support from the West and the East, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.

Lukashenko, who has apparently decided to retain power at any price, finds himself in a challenging situation since the earlier tested "swing" from the East to the West and back this time could fail. The Kremlin has not yet given an official reaction to the events in Belarus. However, the events of the past year show that Moscow could only welcome him with a signed integration map.

While Moscow is silently observing the events in Belarus, Europe is expressing discontent. The EU and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have responded to a clampdown against members of an initiative group made up of presidential hopeful Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich along with several dozen activists.

Belarus, which has failed to meet the recommendations of the World Health Organization over the COVID-19 pandemic and meet political conditions, could be left without any foreign financial assistance. The government earlier announced plans to draw in some $2.5 bln, including $900 mln from the International Monetary Fund. Lukashenko’s rival candidates are collecting more signatures of support and experts believe that without stepping up repression, the wave of popular protests against Lukashenko is unlikely to be stopped.


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