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Press review: Moscow lifts most coronavirus restrictions and Democrats seek police reform

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, June 9

Kommersant: Moscow mayor lifts most coronavirus restrictions

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has lifted most restrictions imposed on city residents due to the coronavirus pandemic, including self-isolation rules and digital travel permits. Hair salons will reopen on June 9, sidewalk cafes, museums and dental clinics on June 16, and restaurants and gyms on June 23. However, the wearing of face masks and gloves in public remains mandatory. The mayor attributed the move to a downward trend in coronavirus cases. Experts consider it to be a political decision stemming from lockdown fatigue, Kommersant writes.

Moscow still records about 2,000 new cases every day. The city’s coronavirus reproduction rate stood at 0.93 on June 8, which, according to the national consumer watchdog’s guidelines, does not make it possible to ease restrictions on such a large scale.

"We are focused on the number of severe cases and fatalities, and there has been a decline in figures, and the trend is positive," a source in the Moscow Mayor’s Office explained. In addition, doctors have learned to cope with their workload and there are enough vacant hospital beds.

Political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov believes that the Moscow authorities’ decision came in response "to the strong lockdown fatigue that engulfed society." "It seems, the authorities were unable to contain the people eager to have their freedom back. A vote on the constitutional amendments will take place soon, while the popularity of the lockdown measures has plummeted. In the beginning, people tended to abide by them and approve of them, but now people are fed up and may have grievances against the authorities," political scientist Alexei Makarkin pointed out, adding that the Moscow mayor’s decision was "largely political."

"The political aspect coming from the pressure on the part of the federal government, which has been inclined to remove restrictions, has impacted the mayor's decision and sped things up. However, there were all indications that that restrictions would have been lifted on June 14," Vinogradov added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Democrats unveil revolutionary bill to reform policing

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph Biden has visited Houston, Texas, to meet with the family of George Floyd, an African American whose killing in police custody in Minneapolis sparked large-scale nationwide protests. Meanwhile, Biden’s fellow Democrats have unveiled a major police reform initiative, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

A bill dubbed Justice in Policing Act of 2020 contains a set of measures aimed at reducing police misconduct against people taken into custody. It particularly overturns the so-called qualified immunity, which means that public officials can't be sued for actions they take in their official capacity. For instance, the qualified immunity concept makes it possible to dismiss lawsuits against police officers who kill and wound people resisting arrest.

It will depend on Republicans whether the bill will be passed. Republicans are the minority in the House but control the Senate. However, the party’s position is still unclear.

According to Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev, "it is Republican voters that strongly support the idea of using tough methods to quell the unrest." "When highlighting the need to ensure law and order, Trump addresses his voters first and foremost," the expert added.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most police unions in the United States tend to support the Republicans rather than the Democrats. They are unlikely to meet the move to overturn qualified immunity with enthusiasm.

That said, a serious debate on police reform is expected to take place in Congress in the near future. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating is on the rise. He managed to extend his lead over Trump in May, though not enough to become the clear-cut favorite to win the presidential election.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Egyptian tanks block the way of Haftar’s enemies

Egypt has raised the stakes in the Libyan conflict. Eyewitnesses say that at least 18 Egyptian Abrams tanks have been deployed to the border. Cairo, a patron of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, earlier unveiled a peace initiative, which was rejected by Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The blueprint was presented following talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Aguila Saleh, President of the Libyan House of Representatives based in the country’s east. It provides for the equal representation of Libya’s three historical regions in high-level government agencies, the development and approval of a permanent constitution and a move to hold general elections in order to ensure unity and territorial integrity. The initiative was not discussed with the GNA, whose forces are still carrying out an offensive against the LNA.

"Egypt tried to avoid direct large-scale intervention in Libya when providing assistance to Haftar in recent years, because Cairo has to deal with a lot of other problems," military expert Yuri Lyamin explained. "However, as far as efforts to ensure security along its western borders go, it is important for Egypt to help the LNA get control over eastern Libya. That said, the deployment of troops to the border is probably a signal to the GNA and Turkey to put an end to their offensive," the expert added. If they don’t do that, Egypt may take more serious steps, he added.

"On the whole, I get the impression that after Haftar’s defeat in the battle of Tripoli, his allies seek to draw a line between the areas that the GNA and the LNA control," Lyamin pointed out. "At the same time, the GNA, supported by Turkey, is trying to fully benefit from its Tripoli victory and move as further forward as possible," the analyst said.


Izvestia: Germany ready to respond to US steps against Nord Stream 2

Berlin considers Washington’s extraterritorial sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be unacceptable. German lawmakers told Izvestia that if the US continued attempts to bring the project down, Berlin will have to develop retaliatory measures. As much as 94% of the work on Nord Stream 2 has been completed and Russia is confident that it will be launched by the end of 2020.

According to media reports, US senators have come up with a new bill that could be included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The new measures will target the Akademik Chersky and Fortuna pipe-laying vessels that are supposed to complete the construction work, taking the place of Switzerland’s Allseas company that withdrew from the project out of fear of US sanctions. American senators claim that Nord Stream 2 poses a threat to US national security and the energy independence of Europe and Ukraine.

The United States' threat of extraterritorial sanctions cannot be seen as a friendly act, it is an infringement on the sovereignty of Germany and the European Union, said Chairman of the German Bundestag Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy Klaus Ernst, who represents the Left Party. According to him, if the US continues to pursue this policy, Berlin will have to consider serious measures to protect itself, including penalty tariffs on US gas.

However, German lawmakers are sure that possible US sanctions will not prevent the pipeline's completion.

US plans to impose sanctions only show that in Washington’s opinion, Russia is capable of completing the project on its own, member of the Bundestag Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy Timon Gremmels pointed out.

Member of the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy Markus Pieper, in turn, noted that the US sanctions were a sign of unacceptable interference in Europe’s energy and trade policy.


Izvestia: Russia to bolster domestic tourism industry

Russia plans to launch another National Project focused on the tourism industry, head of the All-Russian Non-Governmental Organization Opora Rossii Alexander Kalinin said. The project will be aimed at boosting tourist flows and the industry's revenues. To achieve this goal, the government is eyeing measures to co-fund the expenditures of tour operators, reduce travel costs and introduce e-visas, Izvestia wrote.

"It is high time to launch a national project on domestic and inbound tourism. Given the situation on foreign markets and the fact that Russians are not allowed to travel overseas at the moment, this is highly relevant," Kalinin pointed out.

A national project aimed at supporting the industry would indeed be important, BCS Premier Investment Strategist Alexander Bakhtin noted. Lower travel costs and the introduction of digital services, including e-visas, can have a significantly positive impact on domestic travel, he added.

The tourism industry has a strong multiplicative effect as every ruble travelers spend at tourism agencies, hotels and ticket companies, turns into a ruble and a half spent at the travel destination, Freedom Finance analyst Valery Yemelyanov said.

Russia's plans are in line with global trends because other countries, including Spain and Japan, are taking similar steps to boost domestic tourism.

As for foreign visitors, easy visa processes are crucial. Electronic document management and easy entry requirements can help attract up to three mln more tourists to Russia every year, Yemelyanov emphasized.


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