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Press review: Lukashenko gets $1.5-bln loan and Kiev, Donbass anticipate prisoner swap

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, September 15
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin  Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin
© Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS


Izvestia: Putin, Lukashenko agree on new $1.5-bln loan

Belarus will be getting a $1.5-bln loan from Russia. Part of this money will go to refinancing old debts, the Kremlin said following a meeting between both leaders in Sochi. That said, Minsk owes Moscow $270 mln for gas alone. Russia has provided and will continue to support the Belarusian economy, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted. Financial assistance will also help to strengthen trade between the two countries during the coronavirus crisis and Minsk will also be the first to receive the Russian vaccine against COVID-19, Izvestia writes.

At the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted that Moscow remains committed to all general agreements and views the Belarus as its closest ally. Moscow will also provide Minsk with a state loan of $1.5 bln during this difficult period. The former Soviet republic will also become the first country to receive a Russian vaccine against coronavirus infection, Putin confirmed.

The Sochi summit is a signal, especially to Western countries, that Moscow and Minsk won’t let the situation in Belarus and the post-Soviet space as a whole destabilize, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Vodolatsky told the newspaper. "What is happening on the territory of Belarus today is the scenario that was used in Ukraine. With a frequency of five to six years, new roadmaps are being prepared to sway the situation in the CIS," Vodolatsky said.

According to political scientist Vladimir Evseyev, a key subject topping the talks between the two presidents is the question of who would be a potential successor to Alexander Lukashenko. This most likely remained behind the scenes. "It is important for Moscow not to preserve the incumbent president of Belarus, the main thing is to ensure the peaceful transit of power after constitutional reform in the republic. The successor is deliberately being kept a secret so as not to set the West against him ahead of time. Russia has many questions for Lukashenko personally, and they mainly concern the oil and gas sector. I think that after the talks between the two leaders, the disputes on this topic between Moscow and Minsk should subside," the expert told Izvestia.


Kommersant: With prisoner swap looming, Donbass republics demand changes in Ukrainian legislation

Kiev announced an upcoming imminent prisoner exchange with the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass. Andrey Yermak, President Zelensky’s chief of staff, said there are about a hundred people listed for both sides. At the same time, Donetsk called these statements nothing more than "hot air" and made it clear that the prospect of new swaps depends on whether amendments will be made to Ukraine’s law on local elections. The republics want that legislation to greenlight elections in the zones not controlled by Kiev. However, Ukrainian politicians will almost certainly not agree to this, which once again drives the negotiations into a dead end, Kommersant writes.

Yermak said that very soon Kiev intends to conduct a prisoner swap with both Donbass republics. Although, Donetsk and Lugansk themselves are wary about Kiev's assurance that the exchange will take place in the near future. Natalia Nikonorova, the DPR’s permanent representative in the trilateral contact group, directly linked the exchange with the need to amend the recently adopted resolution by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on local elections.

Konstantin Skorkin, a journalist with the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that now the negotiations between Moscow and Kiev are a "game of ping-pong", which means that one should not expect a quick exchange. "[Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office Dmitry] Kozak said that an agreement had been reached on changing the Rada’s resolution on local elections. Yermak denied this agreement. Now the Donetsk People’s Republic is linking the possibility of a swap with a change in the wording of the elections. The negotiations are at an impasse, and no one is making concessions," he told Kommersant.


Izvestia: Potential second wave of COVID-19 in Russia may come from Europe

The world saw a surge in new COVID-19 cases over the past day - 308,010 cases to be exact, the WHO said. Some countries have already announced renewed lockdown measures. For example, in Israel, all service and educational institutions are closed again. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the second wave of coronavirus has begun in European countries. It is also possible in Russia, if control over the observance of the mask mandate is not strengthened, doctors said.

The increase in the incidence in Europe is the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Netesov told the newspaper. "It's too early to say that it has started in Russia, but over the past two weeks there has been an increase in the incidence [rate]," he told Izvestia.

Epidemiologists expected a rise in the number of cases in European countries, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases of the RUDN University Galina Kozhevnikova said. According to her, numerous vacations and the beginning of the season of respiratory diseases affected the situation. "It will be about the same in Russia as in Europe. We already have a slight increase in the incidence. But still, we do not expect a big surge," the expert told Izvestia.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Consumer Rights watchdog believes that, in general, the epidemiological situation for the new coronavirus infection has remained stable in recent months. The daily growth rate is no more than 0.5%, the department told Izvestia.


Vedomosti: Russian federal agency upbeat on economic downturn

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development submitted an updated socio-economic development forecast to the government, in which it significantly improved a number of indicators. The decline in GDP at the end of the year was upgraded to 3.9% from 5%. And over the next three years, the Russian economy will climb above 3%. At the same time, experts interviewed by Vedomosti are split over the new figures, with some believing that the real situation might take a different turn.

The ministry also expects to see improvements in other macro indicators. Thus, real disposable incomes are expected to drop to 3% instead of 3.8%, and real wages will even grow by 1.5%. The federal economic agency’s analysts believe that the price of Urals oil by the end of the year will be at $41.8 per barrel, and the ruble will strengthen to 71.2 rubles per dollar.

The forecast for the decline in GDP by 3.9% seems overly optimistic, Ruben Enikolopov, rector of the New Economic School, told the newspaper. "At the same time, it is not entirely clear what exactly was the reason for such a radical revaluation," he mused.

"The Ministry has grounds for improving the forecast. Thanks to the industry, which did not decline as seriously during the coronavirus crisis as previously thought," Director of the Center for Business Studies at the Higher School of Economics Georgy Ostapkovich told Vedomosti.

In its forecast, the federal economic bureau assumes the absence of a second wave of the coronavirus and a lockdown, as well as the recovery of consumer demand, Member of the Board of Directors at FinExpertiza Agvan Mikaelyan said. "If these basic conditions are met, then the forecast is quite realistic," he told Vedomosti.


Kommersant: Aeroflot drops repatriation flights from Europe, but puts tickets back on sale

Russia has nixed repatriation flights for European destinations, as well as from the United States to Moscow. Instead of them, tickets for regular Aeroflot flights are available for sale. At the same time, there are significantly fewer announced flights to Europe and the United States than return flights. Analysts told Kommersant they believe Aeroflot is trying to increase the load on repatriation flights through commercial ticket sales, as demand for them is falling.

Tickets for Aeroflot's flights to Moscow from Frankfurt, Vienna, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, New York, and Los Angeles in the period up to mid-October became available for sale. Until now, given the coronavirus restrictions, sales opened only to destinations from Russia, and return flights consisted of special repatriation flights. This meant that, although tickets had to be paid, they were sold based on the Foreign Ministry's lists and were not freely available.

Aeroflot told Kommersant that it really opened sales of tickets for its own passenger and cargo flights to Moscow for Russian citizens in agreement with the operational headquarters for combatting the coronavirus. Export flights will remain from cities to which regular commercial flights are not operated by Russian airlines, the company added - these include cities in South America, some cities in Africa, and Asia.

Aviaport Executive Director Oleg Panteleev told Kommersant that Aeroflot does not assume the risks associated with the restrictions on entry to other countries, but at the same time is ready to continue return flights and load them up via unrestricted sale. The severity of the problem with returning Russians is subsiding, but it is too early to talk about removing barriers on international air traffic, Panteleev added.



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