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Press review: Belarus protests dying down and Big Pharma fears Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, August 19
Belarusian opposition supporters gathering for a protest rally in front of the government building at Independence Square in Minsk AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky
Belarusian opposition supporters gathering for a protest rally in front of the government building at Independence Square in Minsk
© AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Belarus protests fizzling out, as public loses faith in opposition

Tuesday became a day of silence for Belarus. Protests on the streets of Minsk have drawn fewer crowds than the day before, and strikes at the country's leading enterprises have weakened. According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the demonstrations gained momentum due to police brutality, but the opposition itself has failed to offer any tangible changes. According to them, the immediate transfer of power in the country should not be expected, and everything largely depends on what Lukashenko will do next.

"The majority of workers go about their business, and some small groups continue to strike, but they are lost in the big picture," human rights activist and political analyst Lyudmila Gryaznova told the newspaper. According to her, something happened that no one in Belarus expected at the start of the unrest: the public heard Lukashenko's appeal.

"Another week and Lukashenko will completely dissolve the Belarusian protest," Head of the Belarusian Mises Research Center Yaroslav Romanchuk told the newspaper. "The fact is that the changes would not have become so massive, had it not been for the brutality of law enforcement agencies," he added.

According to Romanchuk, people placed their bet on Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, but she created "some kind of incomprehensible Coordination Council, which included unknown people for no reason." "Tikhanovskaya does not have a clear program, she is not a politician. And the understanding that there was no one to follow and there was no need to follow brought the protests down," the expert added. If there is a transfer of power in Belarus, it won’t happen now, Romanchuk believes.


Kommersant: Russia, US still at odds over New START deal after Vienna talks

The latest round of Russian-US talks in Vienna ended with new demands from Washington. Now, as a precondition for the extension of the New START Treaty, the United States insists on signing an additional politically binding framework agreement by both presidents. This document should cover both the strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals of both parties, as well as provide new control measures. Based on this document, the US hopes to build a multilateral arms control system for the future. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant that Moscow "took into consideration" Washington's proposals, but stressed that Russia was not interested in extending START "at any cost."

The new US-proposed framework agreement should first seek to bring under control "all types of warheads and nuclear weapons," "both strategic and tactical." US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea told Kommersant that Russian warheads, which are currently not covered by any agreements and the number of which is constantly growing, should be included in future agreements. Second, Washington insists on expanding verification and transparency measures. If Moscow agrees, then, according to Billingslea, his team will be ready to invite Donald Trump "to consider" extending the treaty. A multilateral arms control arrangement with China’s participation could also be established in the future.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant that the Russian delegation "took all the US ideas into consideration." Yet, he did not predict its outcome. "We cannot immediately react to such serious aspects of our discussions, let alone conduct a public discussion on this topic." The Russian senior diplomat noted that Moscow supports extending the New START Treaty, but "not at any cost."

In general, he called the consultations "very useful" and "professional." Ryabkov noted that the Russian delegation also had "a long list of questions for the United States." "Some of them were cleared up, and this is a positive. But there are many more instances, where we do not see any response," he told the newspaper.


Izvestia: Recovery of demand for oil expected only by late 2021

Oil demand will only fully recover by the end of 2021, unless the world faces a second wave of coronavirus and a new quarantine, experts told Izvestia following a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. Meanwhile, according to them, the decline in investment in the Russian sector was not as severe as in many other oil producing countries.

According to Sechin, Rosneft is working on its strategic development goals, providing an average of about 6% of global production, while stimulating the Russian economy by generating about 8% of Russia’s GDP. He added that the company is working to minimize the negative consequences of the compulsory decline in production. Rosneft is also ready to return to the construction of the Eastern Petrochemical Company, if fiscal conditions improve.

Deputy General Director at the Institute of National Energy Alexander Frolov told the newspaper that petrochemical complexes in the Far East are very important as anchor projects supporting the development of the region's fields. First, they will be located close to the fastest growing markets. Second, the petrochemical industry produces high-margin products that bring in more profit than crude oil.

Meanwhile, oil demand will fully recover only by the end of 2021, if there is no second wave of Covid-19, a new quarantine, and a recession, Head of the Analytics Department at Alpari Alexander Razuvaev told Izvestia. "I think that by about this time, Russia in general and Rosneft in particular will reach the pre-crisis level of production," the expert said. He also added that the decline in investment in the Russian sector is not as severe as in many other producing countries.

According to Frolov, the prospects for sustainable production growth both in Russia and throughout the world will not emerge before mid-autumn, and given the current dynamics, perhaps by the end of the year.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Big Pharma up in arms over Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, fears huge monetary losses

The announcement that Russia was the first to complete the development of a vaccine against coronavirus, could please only those afraid of contracting COVID-19, but for the global pharmaceutical industry it was unpleasant news, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to the newspaper, Big Pharma immediately began to criticize the Russian vaccine abroad out of fear of losing colossal profits.

The Association of Clinical Research Organizations, which united a number of large biopharmaceutical companies, including Bayer, AstraZeneca, Novartis and others criticized the Russian vaccine. The association sent a letter to Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko, expressing concerns about the plans to use the Russian drug. For example, the appeal noted that less than 100 people participated in the vaccine’s tests.

Russia's Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, the vaccine’s developers, disagreed with the criticism and said that the technical platform used to create the vaccine is well understood. The Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare also castigated Big Pharma’s claims against the Russian vaccine based on lack of knowledge of the research results.

"The vaccine has passed a serious preclinical stage of testing on animals and has shown the ability to develop cellular immunity and humoral specific immunity," Head of the Center for Clinical Study of Medicines at Sechenov University Elena Smolyarchuk said.

"If certain people, or specific companies lose billions of dollars from the Russian vaccine, what kind of reaction do you expect? It seems to me that the reaction is completely normal," Director of the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology Alexander Gintsburg said.


Vedomosti: Russian 'offshores' become more attractive than Cyprus

After signing a deal on raising taxes on money transfers to international quasi-offshore zones (Cyprus, Malta, Luxembourg), Russia’s government intends to drastically soften the tax regime for residents of Russian "domestic offshores" that is, special administrative regions. According to Vedomosti, the Finance Ministry has prepared amendments to the Tax Code, according to which international holdings registered in these regions will be exempt from income tax transferred by their foreign divisions, and the tax on dividends on shares will be reduced to 5%.

According to Vedomosti, virtually, a tax regime is being introduced for special administrative regions, which was previously in effect in Cyprus. In addition, the new amendments to the Tax Code specifically stipulate that international companies with divisions that are involved in mineral extraction will get these benefits.

Independent experts agree that after the implementation of the tax initiatives of the Ministry of Finance, the attractiveness of "Russian offshores" will increase. "The amendments to the Tax Code regarding taxes in special administrative regions will make changing residency attractive for those companies and groups that would like to maintain the current level of taxation," partner at Deloitte Natalya Kuznetsova told the newspaper.

The amendments primarily boost the attractiveness of such regions for holding companies and companies with foreign mining branches, EY partner Marina Belyakova believes. "In the future, this type of arrangement may interest a wider range of companies, for example, design and trading companies with branches abroad," Senior Manager for Tax & Legal Services at KPMG Russia Ivan Nasonov told Vedomosti.



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