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Press review: NATO creeps towards Russia’s Arctic zone and US governors snub Trump

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, June 8th
French frigate Aquitaine AP Photo/Francois Mori
French frigate Aquitaine
© AP Photo/Francois Mori

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO could target Russia from the Arctic

Russia’s Northern Fleet is practicing defense activities as another NATO ship has appeared near the Russian coast. This time, the French frigate Aquitaine has entered the Barents Sea. This is the NATO naval forces’ second visit to Russia’s Arctic border since the beginning of the year, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

In early May, a NATO strike group of four US and British vessels entered the Barents Sea for the first time in decades. In order to contain their activities, the Northern Fleet had organized military drills that prevented NATO ships from coming close to Russia’s Arctic coast. On Friday, Russia’s National Defense Management Center said that the Northern Fleet had begun to monitor the French frigate’s movement. In addition, over ten Russian ships are currently involved in an exercise in the Barents Sea.

"The world is reverting back to the Cold War era. Tensions are rising between NATO and Russia, particularly in the Arctic. NATO seems to be trying to mark its permanent military presence near Russia's Arctic borders. The goal is to keep up pressure on Russia's Northern Fleet," said Chairman of the Central Committee of All-Russian Trade Union of Military Servicemen Captain 1st Rank Oleg Shvedkov. "In response, Russia will continue to build up its military capabilities to ensure security in the Arctic region," he noted.

On June 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree changing the country's military territorial division, which makes Russia's northwestern Arctic regions part of the "North" (or the Northern Fleet's) Joint Strategic Command.

Retired Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev believes that "the move to make the Northern Fleet a separate military administrative unit will facilitate defense missions in the Arctic." However, since Russia seeks to boost the Northern Sea Route project, the missions won’t be aimed solely at achieving military goals. "The Northern Fleet will be responsible for the Northern Sea Route’s security, and the regions that have become part of the fleet will carry out economic tasks. This pattern leaves no place for confrontation and military conflicts with NATO," Netkachev pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump’s crackdown turned out to be soft

Local authorities in the US are opposing President Donald Trump’s plans to quell the ongoing mass unrest across the nation. State authorities are reluctant to allow him to use the military against street protesters, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

The wave of unrest is beginning to die down. Protests are now taking place in the daytime and are peaceful. Local authorities are starting to lift restrictions. At the same time, US police are about to go through changes. In particular, California has banned police chokeholds during arrests and some states are limiting the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Meanwhile, Trump’s average disapproval rating currently stands at 54%, according to data on the FiveThirtyEight website, based on surveys conducted by the country’s major pollsters. Trump is seven percent behind Democratic presidential hopeful Joseph Biden.

Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev believes that it would be unreasonable to draw far-reaching conclusions from this data. According to the expert, Trump has always had high disapproval ratings as president. "If he changes his rhetoric and starts expressing outrage at police actions and praising the protesters, he won't get people to like him more. On the contrary, he will lose his supporters who stand for tough measures to ensure law and order. Trump's statements are intended only for his voters. However, whether it will be enough for him to win the presidential election is another question," the expert pointed out. In his view, Trump's election campaign is based on expectations of an economic recovery. "It is important for him whether the economy recovers before the election because economic growth is the only achievement he can boast about. All other factors - the coronavirus and the protests - will play against him one way or another," Rogulev emphasized.


Izvestia: Tech guru elaborates on dangers to personal data security due to pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many industries in Russia, including the information technology (IT) sector. After the outbreak began, the Moscow municipal authorities launched several apps to control people’s compliance with self-isolation rules. Meanwhile, Kaspersky Lab co-founder Natalya Kasperskaya in an interview with Izvestia highlighted the need to make sure that the apps’ database is deleted once the pandemic is over.

According to her, the pandemic came unexpectedly and Moscow’s authorities did not have time to prepare. "All apps had to be developed on the spot. In such a situation, it is impossible to hold consultations with tech and security experts because there is simply no time for that. There was also no time for testing because the services had to be launched immediately. This is why there were so many failures," Kasperskaya explained. She indicates that the authorities will need to engage experts in efforts to delete people’s data from the apps once the lockdown is lifted.

When asked if the state would now have total control, Kasperskaya mentioned a law on creating the Unified Federal Information Register, which is supposed to contain information about all Russians. "I am very much concerned about the move because it is unclear how the data will be protected. A unified database will naturally attract all kinds of hackers and miscreants, as well as unscrupulous personnel who will have access to it. It is impossible to guarantee the safety of the unified register, like any other data center," the expert noted.

Kasperskaya also pointed to the damage that the IT industry had suffered during the pandemic. "The revenues of domestic producers and software developers declined by 46% in April and by 47% in May, compared to the same period in 2019," she specified.

"If companies go bankrupt, the most qualified developers may move overseas. And if a brain drain emerges, the loss will be irreversible," Kasperskaya stressed.


Kommersant: Loosened lockdown leads to boost in Russia’s consumer demand

Banks recorded a surge in credit card transactions in the first week of June, when shopping malls reopened in Moscow. Bankers are hopeful that the trend will get stronger once all the restrictions are removed. June may turn out to be an exceptional month in terms of consumer activity because due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people have remained at home instead of travelling overseas like they usually do, Kommersant wrote.

According to VTB’s estimates, the amount of purchases made in the Russian capital’s shopping malls has surged by 82% compared to the week preceding the launch of lockdown measures in late March. "The dramatic increase in card transactions in shopping malls in the first days after their reopening was largely based on pent-up demand accumulated during the lockdown," said chief of the VTB Acquiring Department Alexei Kirichek. At the same time, he pointed out that restaurants, cafes and beauty salons are still closed in Moscow, while they account for a significant share of overall shopping mall turnover.

According to the Tinkoff CoronaIndex analytics project, consumer spending in Moscow stood at 81% on June 4, compared to the average spending rates recorded in February, while the overall nationwide figure rose to 90%. At the same time, clothing and footwear purchases have nearly returned to February’s level.

Russian Standard Bank is optimistic about the short-term prospects. "June will be an unusual month for Moscow this year as far as people’s transaction activities are concerned. They usually tend to fall in June but clearly a sharp increase in consumer activity will follow the long period of restrictions," Acquiring Director at Russian Standard Inna Yemelyanova pointed out. In her view, it is already obvious that card transactions will significantly surge as the restrictions are eased.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Cleanup of Arctic oil spill may take months

The final cause of the oil spill at a Norilsk power plant, which resulted in the leakage of about 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel into the environment, has not been announced yet. Right after the incident, regional authorities and the owner company cited warm weather as the cause, saying that the permafrost had melted, leading to the collapse of a fuel tank, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Ensuring the stability of such fuel tanks is indeed a problem, said Rudolf Chzhan, a leading expert in permafrost engineering. The expert pointed out that "global warming has been affecting the Arctic for years, causing a rise in average annual temperatures, which has seriously impacted the stability of civil and industrial facilities." However, the specialist did not rule out that "the facility’s operating rules were broken."

Most of the spilled fuel flowed into the Ambarnaya River. "Response teams are mechanically removing the fuel from the river’s surface. Sixty tonnes are collected every day. Experts say that about half of the spilled fuel leaked into the river, which makes up about 10,000 tonnes. Clearly, at this pace, it will take not two weeks but rather about six months to collect it all," said Sergei Shakhmatov, Executive Director of the Russian Greens open environmental platform.

Some suggest building a pipeline to transfer the fuel to a place where it will be disposed of, while others urge to wait for the winter and carry temporary fuel tanks away on winter roads. But environmentalist Alexander Kolotov emphasizes that in both cases, a secondary contamination issue may arise depending on whether the pipeline and the temporary fuel tanks are leakproof given the possibility of sudden temperature changes.

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