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Press review: German doctors report on Navalny and EU cooks up Belarus mediation scheme

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 25
Police officers standing in front of the emergency entrance of the Berlin Charite hospital AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Police officers standing in front of the emergency entrance of the Berlin Charite hospital
© AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Vedomosti: German doctors say Navalny could have been poisoned

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert has said it is highly possible that Alexei Navalny could have been poisoned. His statement followed a report from Berlin's Charite hospital where the Russian politician had arrived in a coma on August 22, Vedomosti notes.

The hospital added that Navalny's prospects were unclear. According to doctors, there can be long-term effects that will affect his nervous system.

If evidence is found of Navalny’s poisoning and the substance that was used to poison him is determined, a serious international scandal will erupt, political scientist Alexei Makarkin predicted. However, if doctors only confirm the poisoning and fail to determine the poisoning agent, the incident will have less political effect, the expert noted. "In any case, all of the opposition will believe that Navalny was poisoned. It will serve as a strong signal for the protest movement," Makarkin noted.

Protest activities in Russia will expand following the Navalny incident, the expert went on to say. "Such incidents always unite the opposition whose main problem is fragmentation," the political scientist emphasized, adding that the death of Boris Nemtsov had unified the opposition.

With that in mind, the Navalny situation can influence the September regional elections only where the politician's associates are highly active but neither Moscow nor St. Petersburg are going to hold major elections this year, the expert explained. However, Makarkin pointed out that in the fall, the opposition, which actually missed out on the recent vote on the constitutional amendments, would start gearing up for the parliamentary election scheduled for 2021.


Izvestia: EU stands ready to help resolve Belarusian crisis

The European Union is ready to contribute to the peaceful and democratic resolution of the Belarusian conflict, a European Commission official told Izvestia. Moscow, however, insists that the Belarusian people are capable of settling their problems on their own, so attempts to impose mediation on them are unacceptable. Russian experts point out that Western interference never leads to anything good, as experience shows. The Ukrainian crisis, which was triggered by a Western settlement scheme, is the best proof of that.

The Belarusian opposition would like Russia and the EU to help resolve the political crisis in the country but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is skeptical about European mediation attempts.

In order to achieve success, a mediator needs to maintain good relations with all parties to the conflict, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov emphasized. This is not the European Union’s case because even though the EU touts mediation, it imposes sanctions against the current Belarusian authorities.

Brussels cannot become a mediator not only because of the unfortunate 2014 experience and the EU’s current rhetoric: another reason lies in global political trends, Valdai Discussion Club Research Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov noted. "In the 2000s, Euro-Atlantic bodies had some moral right and authority to engage in domestic processes in the so-called volatile democracies, but those days are gone," the expert explained.

According to political scientists, Russia has a stronger position as far as this crisis goes. Given its close relations with Belarus and Minsk’s dependence on Moscow, both the current Belarusian authorities and the emerging opposition are ready to talk to Russia. Kortunov believes that Russia is keeping an eye on the situation in Belarus, waiting for it to become clearer, and will outline its steps based on further developments.


Izvestia: Trump set to fight for swing voters

Incumbent US President Donald Trump, who was formally nominated to run for a second term at the Republican National Convention on August 24, should not be considered as an underdog just yet. According to experts, despite Trump’s gap with Democratic hopeful Joe Biden in nationwide polls, everything will depend on random things in the current campaign, as well as on the situation in the US economy and society, badly hit by the coronavirus, Izvestia writes.

Trump’s strategy is to focus on his achievements and encourage voters by speaking about the United States’ greatness, President of the American University in Moscow Edward Lozansky explained. "It will stand in sharp contrast to the tactics of Democrats who keep saying that the nation is in a terrible situation and blame everything on the president. Democrats have spoken little about their specific programs, only reiterating the promises they failed to fulfill while in power, particularly during Barack Obama’s presidency, when Biden was vice president," the political scientist pointed out.

The Republican National Convention could improve Trump’s approval rating. According to Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev, such events usually can swing voters. But this time, most activities have been moved online and face-to-face events are being held on a smaller scale due to the coronavirus pandemic. That said, neither Democrats nor Republicans will score points.

"As long as the epidemic is on the rise and the economy is far from recovering, Trump will be facing hard times. He has no other trump cards for a breakthrough," Rogulev stressed. This is why all that’s left for the president to do is hope that the social, economic and epidemiological situation will improve by November.

However, there is one more important aspect to the election campaign that could become a straw for Trump to grasp at amid the declining economy. Debates between him and Biden are scheduled to take place in the fall. According to Rogulev, candidate-sparring has much impact on voters if one of the participants faces complete failure. And it remains to be seen if Biden will be able to prove himself face-to-face with Trump.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia to benefit from rising European gas prices

European gas prices have reached their highest level since November 2019. Gas producers expect demand to recover based on seasonal factors. In such a situation, US liquified natural gas (LNG) stands little chance of competing with gas from other countries on the European market, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

"The seasonal factor is hardly the only reason behind the rise in prices because making stocks for the heating season is not a pressing task this year as Europe’s underground gas storage facilities are already nearly 90% full," Finam analyst Alexei Kalachev pointed out. In his view, a heat wave in Europe with temperatures running above 30 degrees Celsius has led to an increase in energy consumption for air conditioning purposes. Besides, a prolonged period of low prices has resulted in a decline in gas supplies to the European market, which first and foremost affected the LNG that is more expensive to produce.

However, pipeline gas and LNG exporters from other countries have found themselves in a better situation than American LNG suppliers. The reason is that prices have now increased everywhere, including on the US market. And since there are at least three resellers between US gas producers and consumers, American gas has become too expensive for Europe.

US traders sometimes sold LNG at prices below profitability at the beginning of the year but that happened at a time when prices were declining. It won't be profitable to drag down prices amid a rising trend.

"It is possible to sell gas below the cost of production in order to gain a foothold on the market and drive rivals away but no one can continue doing that for long without damaging cost recoveries," Kalachev noted. Given gas output and infrastructural capacities, Russian gas supplies are expected to grow the most.


Izvestia: Pandemic driving up Russia’s divorce rates

The coronavirus pandemic has spiked Russia's divorce rates, Izvestia writes, citing data for the first six months of the year, released by the Federal State Statistics Service. After a sharp decline during the period of self-isolation caused by the pandemic, a sharp rise in divorces was reported in June.

According to statistics, 45,800 divorces took place in the first summer month, which is more than double that of May.

Some experts predicted that during the quarantine period Russia might follow the example of China, where many couples rushed to apply for divorces after the restrictions had been lifted.

The number of divorces may continue to grow in July, Deputy Head of the Federal State Statistics Service Pavel Smelov told the newspaper. "People may have postponed a divorce amid restrictions, deciding to go through with their plans in July," he noted. According to him, it will become fully clear how the lockdown influenced divorce rates by the end of the year.

Life’s challenges, which definitely include the pandemic and the quarantine, either unite families or drive them apart, psychologist Inna Koryagina said. She suggested that the reason for the increase in divorces could be that many couples had failed to overcome difficulties stemming from being in an enclosed space 24 hours a day.

Koryagina also pointed out that even before the coronavirus crisis broke out, the number of divorces had started to rise due to financial problems. "The pandemic accelerated internal processes that had been going on privately," the psychologist stressed, adding that annual statistics would show whether the family institution could stand a serious test such as the lockdown.


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