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Press review: Novichok allegations imperil Nord Stream 2 and does Russia have a Covid cure

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, September 4

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West threatens heavier sanctions against Moscow over ‘Novichok’ claims in Navalny case

The outcome of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny's toxicological examination has fuelled discussions of sanctions against Moscow. German and American politicians are demanding that Russia should be punished for the alleged use of a nerve agent similar to Novichok.

The new sanctions could particularly include a ban on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and Russian gas exports, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

There is excess supply on the oil and gas market, which makes it easy to implement sanctions, Associate Professor with the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Sergei Khestanov pointed out. "Any sanctions that will reduce currency inflows from exports would be rather painful," he stressed.

TeleTrade Chief Analyst Mark Goikhman believes that the Navalny incident makes the danger of "sanctions from hell" against Russia more real. "Those would include restrictions or even a ban on foreign investments in Russian federal loan bonds, the blocking of Russian banks’ dollar accounts in US banks and a ban on foreign payment by Russian contractors," he explained.

However, some experts don't expect serious sanctions to be imposed on Moscow. According to Oleg Cherednichenko, an associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, the German government's statements are largely declarative. "As for real action, it will be considered after a thorough investigation of the Navalny incident takes place," he said. "If sanctions are introduced, they are most likely to be individual," the expert added.

Cherednichenko also doubts that new sanctions will be slapped on the entire Nord Stream 2 project. "The project has recently become an ace up the sleeve of European and American politicians that they use to score political and economic points," the analyst emphasized.


Media: Power struggle shakes up Saudi elite

Six high-ranking generals, including two members of the royal family, have been sacked from Saudi Arabia's army on suspicion of corruption and financial fraud, Izvestia writes. The relevant decree was singed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Observers view it as proof of a secret struggle for power at the top of the ruling family as not all of its members recognize Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's right to succeed his father.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Andrei Chuprygin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the newly sacked individuals could soon face more charges. They will probably be blamed for the crown prince’s blunders, which led to the fiasco in the Yemen war and made Riyadh lose face both on the international stage and domestically.

The political situation in Saudi Arabia is tense at the moment due to foreign policy failures, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations Vladimir Avatkov told Izvestia. "Apart from the mishaps in Yemen, failures have also taken place in relation to Syria, and there has been a decline Saudi Arabia’s supremacy in the Arab world," the political scientist pointed out. In his view, with Saudi Arabia’s authority diminishing, the domestic political struggle is gaining momentum.

"Several forces advocate changing the country’s foreign policy priorities and shifting to a more balanced foreign policy course, while others are employing more bellicose rhetoric, insisting on maintaining a close alliance with the United States," the expert pointed out. "The situation in Saudi Arabia is seething and can sooner or later lead to dangerous consequences, given the negative regional trends, the old age of the ruling monarch and the young crown prince’s rather active foreign policy," Avatkov stressed.


Izvestia: New Russian parties upbeat about forthcoming regional elections

The new political parties registered in Russia in 2020 are positive about their chances in the country’s regional elections for the upcoming Unified Election Day, Izvestia notes.

A total of four parties - New People, For the Truth, Green Alternative and the Direct Democracy Party - were registered by the Russian Justice Ministry in March. They have already set up branches in half of Russia’s regions and plan to nominate candidates for the 2020 regional elections, as well as for the State Duma election scheduled for September 2021.

Zakhar Prilepin, leader of the For the Truth party, anticipates success in the September ballot. "Nevertheless, we understand that our positions are stronger in some regions and weaker in others," he told the paper.

Pundits believe that not all of the new political forces will succeed in getting seats in regional legislatures. Political scientist Dmitry Fetisov pointed out that members of the New People and For the Truth parties have the best chances of success.

Analysts also say that neither of the new political projects is capable of entering the State Duma in 2021.

"These parties have made a statement in the 2020 election campaign but there has been no breakthrough as far as the people’s perception of them goes," Director General of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications Dmitry Orlov noted. According to him, the likely reason is that the new parties launched their election campaigns too late. They will have to catch up on that by stepping up their activities before the State Duma election takes place, the expert added. Orlov emphasized that United Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party remained the main players on Russia’s political field.


Izvestia: Russian ruble’s prospects look cloudy

The Russian currency can strengthen to 70 rubles per dollar in the next three to four months if the situation is favorable, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. However, such a scenario looks unlikely because there is too much uncertainty both in Russia and abroad.

Oil prices can once again drop to the $40-42 level after the hurricane season is over in the Gulf of Mexico, TeleTrade Chief Analyst Mark Goikhman noted. According to the International Energy Agency and OPEC, the demand for oil won’t go back to last year’s level even in 2021, yet the supply will only rise, he added.

The possibility of a second coronavirus wave is also putting pressure on the Russian currency. The pandemic’s consequences have not yet been fully realized, and the global economy is only starting to feel the impact of logistics gaps, AMarkets Analytics Department Chief Artem Deyev pointed out. The second wave of the pandemic can trigger a sell-off on asset markets in developing countries, just like in March, he warned.

Apart from economic challenges, the ruble is also facing political pressure. The threat of sanctions against Russia is affecting the ruble-dollar exchange rate the most, BCS Chief Analyst Vitaly Gromadin said. It comes amid a standoff in Belarus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s accusatory rhetoric regarding the Alexei Navalny case.

"It is not the sanctions that are dangerous but the subsequent series of retaliatory measures and the uncertainty that it will create. Additional negative statements by Western leaders can worsen the ruble’s position," said Ilya Zaporozhsky, an expert at the Finance and Investment Management Academy.

However, a positive scenario is still possible. It will materialize if there are no new sanctions and no second wave of COVID-19, while the global economy recovers together with oil demand, Deyev stressed.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russian experts create coronavirus remedy out of air

Russian scientists have created a device to generate nitrogen oxide from the air and deliver it to patients through inhalation. The device was developed at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics and is already being tested for the treatment of COVID-19, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

It has been confirmed during the pandemic that nitrogen oxide inhalation can increase the survival rates of severe coronavirus patients hooked up to ventilators from 15% to 75%. However, the coronavirus and lung diseases are not the only field where the new device can be helpful. There are prospects for using it in intensive care units, at heart surgery centers and perinatal facilities.

The device has undergone clinical trials at the Almazov National Medical Research Center in St. Petersburg and is now being tested by cardiologists in the city of Nizhny Novgorod.

"This device has made it possible for us to operate on patients we were unable to help in the past. Now the number of such patients has dropped. Moreover, we are giving people a chance to live full lives after their treatment is over," Chief Physician at the Korolev Specialized Hospital for Heart Surgery Anton Maximov pointed out.

According to the developers, the device is unparalleled in the world. "We are capable of producing about 200 devices a year, which will meet Russia’s estimated needs," Director of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics Viktor Selemir told the newspaper. According to him, the first batch of 50 devices will be manufactured by the end of September.


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