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Press review: Murder charges against Russian governor and Iran as a future Chinese colony

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, July 10


Media: How murder charges against a regional governor may shake up Russia’s mainstream opposition

Governor of Russia’s Far Eastern Khabarovsk Region Sergei Furgal was taken into custody on July 9 on suspicion of masterminding murder-for-hire killings of businessmen in 2004-2005. He was flown to Moscow the same day, Vedomosti writes.

Member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Sergei Furgal became governor of Khabarovsk in September 2018, winning a runoff election against the then incumbent governor, Vyacheslav Shport of United Russia. Experts point out that the charges brought against Furgal are unprecedented and the case could have serious consequences for the mainstream opposition. Unlike other high-profile cases against regional governors, Furgal’s case is based not on corruption but on murder charges, political scientist Alexander Pozhalov noted.

The Furgal case is a serious blow to the LDPR, political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko said. "Furgal was one of the party’s public faces. He was a success story. He demonstrated how you can join the LDPR and be part of a ‘safe’ opposition that attracts those left who were behind by United Russia but are unwilling to join the Communist Party and are pessimistic about the A Just Russia party’s prospects," the expert explained.

"Furgal was the party’s long-term sponsor. Last year, he led the LDPR branch to victory in regional elections. If a court upholds charges against a high-ranking politician like him, it will deal a powerful blow to one of the oldest parliamentary parties, leading to changes in regional policies," Civil Society Development Fund’s Chairman of the Board Konstantin Kostin told Izvestia.

According to Director General of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications Dmitry Orlov, Furgal is highly likely to be sacked over loss of trust and the region will be in for a tough election campaign. The expert emphasized that Furgal had always remained at the bottom of the agency’s regional influence ranking. In June, he ranked 81st among 85 regional heads


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Is Beijing turning Iran into a Chinese colony?

Iran and China are working on a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement, which has already whipped up some controversy. Tehran is refraining from commenting on the deal’s details but Iranian opposition members and Arab experts are speculating that it will turn Iran into a Chinese colony, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The most popular theories allege that Tehran will hand Kish Island or the strategically important port of Jask over to the Chinese for a long period of time, provide Beijing with the monopoly right to purchase Iranian oil and greenlighting the deployment of Chinese troops to the country.

"It’s not about some strategic shift," Nikita Smagin, an Iran-based expert with the Russian International Affairs Council pointed out. "It is more of an Iranian initiative aimed at saving the economic relations that have been deteriorating due to foreign pressure. I don’t think that there will be any breakthrough, particularly an economic one," he added. On the other hand, in the expert’s view, since Washington prevents Iran from trading with the West, China - who knows how to circumvent sanctions - is getting the opportunity to strengthen its influence over Iran.

"China became Iran’s major trade partner in recent years but the sanctions have caused a decline in trade," Smagin stressed. "And now, on top of that, there is the coronavirus pandemic, and trade dwindled by another 30% in the first quarter of the year. Iran understands that something needs to be done about it," the expert emphasized.

"Naturally, if it turns out that the project grants concessions to China, conservative Iranian politicians will take it as an excuse to criticize the government even more. At the same time, I don’t think that significant concessions will be made. The project is more likely to contain declarations of intent that will probably be partially implemented," Smagin concluded.


Izvestia: Russia may apply amendment voting practices to future elections

The best practices of Russia’s recent nationwide vote on the constitutional amendments could be used in the September 13 elections. In particular, the voting process needs to be extended for several days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, politicians and experts told Izvestia following a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairperson Ella Pamfilova.

The CEC chief did not rule out that Unified Election Day would last longer than usual under the current situation. In particular, the September election ballot could last several days. However, according to her, it won’t be a week but two to three days.

"As for the September 13, Unified Election Day, we need to take the best and safest practices into account," State Duma member Viktor Zubarev agreed. In his view, multi-day voting has turned out to be reasonable in many terms. This principally concerns the need to comply with healthcare regulations, the lawmaker added. He pointed out that though the coronavirus situation had improved, leading infectious disease experts warned of a possible second wave in the early fall.

"We need to understand that not all people will be willing to go outside, let alone visit public places, for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus. Consequently, there is a need to provide them with an opportunity to vote remotely if possible, or extend the voting process to several days," the legislator emphasized.

Extending the balloting process would be quite a wise move in today’s situation, said Alexei Agranovsky, a professor with the Department of Virology at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Biology. He pointed out that such an approach could help reduce the risk of infection. According to the expert, it is still unclear if Russia will face a second wave of COVID-19 so the country needs to stay alert and everyone should minimize contact with other people.


Izvestia: Coronavirus lockdown bolstered Russians’ interest in moving to suburban homes

Apartment buildings disappointed one in six Russians during the coronavirus lockdown. More people (39%) now tend to think that it is better to live in private residences, Izvestia wrote, citing a poll conducted by the Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending (DOM.RF) and the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center.

When commenting on the survey’s outcome, DOM.RF Director General Vitaly Mutko highlighted the importance of boosting private housing construction and creating conditions for developers. "We need to promote private housing construction in a comprehensive manner so that investors will find it attractive. It will have an impact on housing construction volumes in the country," Mutko noted.

Standard interest rates for suburban homes range between 8-15%, while subsidized mortgage rates for apartments stand at 6.5%. The reason is that there are different model approaches to construction projects and banks find it hard to estimate the value of mortgaged properties.

"The demand for suburban homes did increase during the pandemic but it’s unclear if the trend will hold," said Luxury Real Estate Manager at Metrium Premium Anna Radzhabova.

Developers interviewed by the newspaper said that they were not very much interested in the construction of suburban-type houses. They pointed to huge issues with infrastructure facilities and jobs, as well as to the lack of major shopping malls. Developers believe that the change in people’s preferences is temporary and is due to the aftereffects of the recent lockdown.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Coronavirus can spread through air conditioning

The demand for air conditioners always soars during periods of hot weather. However, many are apprehensive about installing such devices in their homes because there is speculation that the coronavirus can get inside a building through air conditioning. This is why air conditioning systems are still turned off in many offices, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

"Like any respiratory virus, the coronavirus cannot exist in ventilation and air conditioning systems. It lives inside the human body," said Mikhail Lebedev, an expert with the Center for Molecular Diagnostics at the Russian sanitary watchdog’s Central Research Institute of Epidemiology. "In theory, it can linger in an air conditioner’s filter, but only for a short while. It is another thing that air conditioners certainly need to be cleaned thoroughly after winter because apart from the coronavirus, there can be bacteria," the expert noted. However, according to him, "air conditioners absorb air from the room and partially discharge it back, so it is better to open windows to let fresh air in as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus," Lebedev stressed.

Another important thing to remember is that an air conditioner blows air in a certain direction and if a sick person sneezes near it, then the system may spread sneeze droplets.

"In theory, it is possible. This is why Rospotrebnadzor [the sanitary watchdog] does not recommend using air conditioning in medical facilities. To prevent the infection from spreading, it is better to air the room as often as possible," the expert emphasized.


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