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Press review: Belarusians fed up with protests and Russian voters end up as big winners

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, September 14th

Media: Belarusian society getting tired of ongoing demonstrations

Protesters in Minsk on Sunday sought to surround the community of Drozdy where the country’s top officials live. Riot police blocked the roads leading to the settlement and most of the crowd stopped at the Minsk Arena and did not dare confront law enforcement officers. A number of political scientists say that Belarusian society is starting to get tired of these demonstrations, Izvestia writes.

The Sunday march drew about 100,000 people, according to some estimates. It’s not a large number for Minsk, which has a population of two million, and may indicate a turning point that these protests are going to die down, Belarusian political scientist Sergei Musiyenko said. "Most of the capital’s residents have grown tired of these rallies, blocked roads and other inconveniences caused by these large crowds, including the closures of subway stations and shopping malls," the expert told the paper.

Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is expected to visit Sochi on September 14 for talks with the Russian leader. Experts predict that Lukashenko may claim that it's not Russia that is trying to help him retain power, but it is he that is saving Russia from a color revolution. "His message is this: there aren’t any ‘protests’ in Belarus. There is just a bunch of thugs on the streets who are guided by the West seeking to stage a color revolution in Belarus to build a springboard for a similar revolution in Russia. That said, by supporting Lukashenko, you are saving yourselves. And by suppressing the revolution in Belarus, I am saving Russia, so don’t ask for concessions from me in exchange for Russia’s help," political scientist Valery Karbalevich told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Lukashenko may vow to move the transit of goods from ports in the Baltic states to Russian ones. The issue of Russian military bases in Belarus and the possible sale of factories such as the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and the Belaruskali potash producer may pop up once again. "The Kremlin would be foolish not to take advantage of this moment and make Lukashenko offer as many promises as possible because he is in a desperate situation," political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky pointed out.


Izvestia: Voters turn out to be the biggest winners on Russia’s Unified Election Day

According to preliminary results, United Russia's candidates are winning the gubernatorial elections and the largest amount of seats in regional legislatures. The recent election campaign has turned out to be one of the most successful for the ruling party. Experts attribute its triumph to the fact that the protest agenda is unpopular amid the coronavirus pandemic, Izvestia writes.

"First, an effective electoral machine worked for United Russia. The second reason is that people want stability. It is the ruling party that represents support for the president and the government. Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Mishustin enjoy rather high approval ratings and by voting for United Russia, people show their support for the president and the prime minister," Director General of the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center Valery Fedorov told the newspaper.

According to him, the third reason is that most of the winning gubernatorial candidates from United Russia are political newcomers. They come from a generation that has no fear of communicating with voters, and what’s more they show openness and know how to use major communication tools.

"United Russia has been and remains a party of action. It effectively assisted the public during the pandemic, putting forward a number of social initiatives, working on them together with the government and ensuring their approval," Director General of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications Dmitry Orlov pointed out.

The opposition lost popularity during the pandemic because people did not want to hear endless criticism of the authorities but sought real help, Chairman of the Board of the Civil Society Development Fund Konstantin Kostin emphasized. "We can see from the preliminary outcome of the elections that there is no political ground for any protest agenda. A new method has emerged, which means talking to people to find out their grievances," the expert said. In his view, it could help the authorities and the people reach an understanding.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Bahrain to normalize ties with Israel

A historical event is going to take place in Washington on Tuesday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani will sign a Declaration of Peace. Bahrain is the second Arab country after the United Arab Emirates to recognize Israel through the efforts of the White House, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

The Muslim world has split in two over the Israel-Bahrain agreement. The UAE, Egypt and Oman have openly welcomed it. Saudi Arabia has opened its skies to flights connecting Israel with the UAE and Bahrain.

As for Palestine, both the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas have condemned Bahrain’s move. Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah has issued threats to Israel. However, these threats will hardly stop the movement to recognize Israel, which has been dubbed the "Arab Autumn" on social media.

Senior Researcher of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Isaev believes that Qatar will be the next to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The country's trade mission is already active in the Jewish state.

"The Arab world is changing. It is divided not only for economic reasons but also over security in the Middle East. The agreements with Israel make it clear that Arab countries see no military solution to the Palestinian issue. However, I would not talk about them betraying the Palestinian cause. Both Bahrain and the UAE say that their agreements with Israel will allow them to better advocate their position on Jerusalem, for instance," the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Diamond industry begins to rebound

Major diamond companies have increased their sales several times following a drop during the coronavirus pandemic. Russia’s Alrosa sold six times as much in August as it did in July, Kommersant writes.

De Beers chief executive Bruce Cleaver attributes the rise in sales to the removal of the lockdown restrictions. Alrosa, Russia’s biggest gem producer, was one of the mining companies that suffered the most from the COVID-19 pandemic. Its sales dropped to $15.6 mln in April. However, diamond sales soared to $216.7 mln in August, six times greater than in July.

"Much depends on what the market will be like in the fall, ahead of the holiday season, and what sales will be like during the holiday season itself," an Alrosa spokesperson told the paper. According to the diamond producer‘s representative, "judging by the August sales figures, the supportive measures are producing results." "The company has not yet decided on the terms for the next trading session but we will first and foremost focus on the actual market demand and pursue price over volume strategy," the company spokesperson explained.

Investment and Capital Markets Manager at KPMG Russia and CIS Anton Bolotov says that the diamond market usually begins to recover in August, as the vacation season's conclusion triggers purchases that reach their peak by Christmas. According to him, diamond producers have seen a rise in stockpiles recently but the seasonal increase in demand is expected to help reduce them or slow their growth.


Vedomosti: Pandemic compels Russians to talk more on cell phones

The overall duration of mobile phone calls in Russia reached 231.7 bln minutes in the first six months of 2020, which is 12 bln minutes more than in the same period of 2019, Vedomosti writes, citing data from the Ministry of Communications.

The number of fixed-line telephones has been steadily declining in Russia, but it was the coronavirus pandemic that gave a real boost to mobile services.

The lockdown was the reason behind the surge in voice traffic, as well as the growing number of calls to help desks and call centers, TMT Consulting Director General Konstantin Ankilov pointed out. Russians also made many calls to transport and tourist companies in order to cancel or postpone their trips, the expert added.

Another reason for the growing voice traffic is the active use of conference calls, MTS spokesperson Alexei Merkutov noted.

After the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, lockdowns were introduced and a need arose to work from home, so people were forced to use other communication tools along with social media networks and messaging services, Telecom Daily Director General Denis Kuskov noted. In particular, employees at major companies now have to make more phone calls. In addition, online stores and delivery services saw a rise in orders, which led to an increase in calls.

In fact, almost every online order requires a phone call, especially to specify delivery time, Kuskov explained. According to him, the future demand for mobile telephony will depend on the coronavirus situation.

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