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Press review: EU backs down on sanctions and Israel to normalize ties with Sudan

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, September 22


Media: EU Foreign Affairs Council fails to adopt any sanctions

Any Navalny-linked sanctions would worsen the already rocky relationship between Moscow and the European Union, Russia’s Permanent Envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told Izvestia, commenting on Brussels’ idea to launch a human rights sanctions mechanism and name it after Russian opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny. The situation surrounding the blogger topped the agenda of a meeting between the foreign ministers of EU members. However, they failed to concur on a specific decision. Likewise, the top diplomats were unable to reach a consensus on sanctions against Belarus.

When speaking about the EU's potential sanctions against Russia, Chizhov made it clear that Moscow viewed it as meddling in its internal affairs. "Unlike a number of other countries, Russia never interferes in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations and communities, regardless of the possible negative consequences for our relations with partners. However, it doesn’t stop us from openly expressing our negative attitude to such an initiative, which goes beyond international norms," the newspaper quoted the envoy as saying.

Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Sergey Fedorov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that there was not enough evidence to corroborate the accusations against Russia. "They are already talking about some blacklists, though nothing is clear yet. However, if the EU eventually discloses some information about the foreign assets and property of Russian officials, I think that Russian society would take an interest in that," he noted.

The unrest in Belarus was another focal point that the top diplomats from the EU deliberated over at their meeting. They were expected to agree on a list of Belarusian officials to be sanctioned. Brussels announced the move back in August but even now, the chief diplomats failed to reach an agreement. According to media reports, Cyprus’ position was the reason. The Eastern Mediterranean island nation has demanded that its European partners impose sanctions against Turkey over its activities in the Mediterranean Sea.


Izvestia: Israel confirms normalization talks with Sudan

Israel and Sudan are in direct talks on establishing diplomatic relations, member of the Israeli high-level security cabinet Ze'ev Elkin confirmed to Izvestia. Experts interviewed by the newspaper believe that it is important for Israel to normalize relations with any Arab nation because Tel Aviv needs to surround itself if not with allies, then with countries that pose no danger.

Palestinian Ambassador to Moscow Abdel Hafiz Nofal told the paper that it was too early to talk about the consequences of Sudan’s possible recognition of Israel as no actual steps had been taken yet. "Sudan has found itself in a difficult economic and social situation in the midst of a powerful international blockade. We certainly oppose the normalization of its relations with Israel, but judging by media reports, Sudan is about to take this step in return for the lifting of the blockade, out of economic reasons," the envoy pointed out.

According to Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Boris Dolgov, the Sudanese track should be considered together with the recent statements made by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. It is all part of US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, where he is seeking to position himself as a peacemaker, the expert noted.

Meanwhile, Israel is reimposing coronavirus restrictions. But even in such a difficult situation, news about a possible improvement in relations with Sudan is vital, Israeli politician and journalist Ksenia Svetlova emphasized. "Israel has been a regional pariah for far too long. This is why an agreement with Sudan is a wonderful thing. For Netanyahu, the signing of any deal is important because security and foreign relations have been his trump card for years. For ages, he has been pledging to normalize Israel’s relations with a number of Arab countries, and now the process has begun," Svetlova explained.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Europe to shoot itself in the foot if it freezes Nord Stream 2 project

The suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project will strike a serious blow to the interests of the companies involved and gas consumers in Europe. At the same time, a delayed launch won’t affect Russian gas exports, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Russia's position remains unchanged since the end of last year, when the United States imposed sanctions on the gas pipeline venture . Europe needs the project and it should be completed in a timely manner.

However, if one takes the threat of a ban on the completion of Nord Stream 2 seriously, it will become clear that Russia won’t be the one who will suffer the most. Gazprom will definitely face some financial losses because the company has invested a great deal into the pipeline’s construction and will eventually have to export gas through transit countries. But the export itself won’t be affected. The current pipeline capacities (nearly 278 bln cubic meters a year) are sufficient to ensure the unhindered supply of Russian gas. For comparison, Russia exported a little less than 193 bln cubic meters of pipeline gas to Europe in 2019.

As for Europe, freezing the project will mean not only the loss of 10 bln euro invested in the project but also limited access to cheap gas for regular consumers and companies. "It will affect the competitive capabilities of the European economy and its investment attractiveness," Deputy General Director of Russia's National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach pointed out.

According to him, this will trigger an artificial spike in Europe’s gas prices that could even impact gas demand. Meanwhile, the United States will not get any special benefits from the project’s suspension. US LNG is not competitive in Europe when prices fall below $200 per cubic meter and gas suppliers are unable to cover the costs, Grivach explained.


Vedomosti: Russia’s retail trade rebounds to pre-crisis levels

The number of offline transactions has been steadily rising in Russia since May and online trade is seeing consistent growth, Vedomosti writes, citing research by the Evotor company.

This analysis has once again proven that offline clothing and footwear stores, travel agencies and jewelry stores were the ones hardest hit during the coronavirus lockdown. In particular, clothing and footwear sales nosedived by 85% in April compared to May. Online sales rose during the lockdown (a 51-percent surge in April) but fell by eight percent after the coronavirus restrictions had been lifted. But on the whole, according to analysts, online trade growth in August was similar to that in April and offline trade has recovered to the February level in July.

"The quarantine measures have taught customers to buy things online and many retailers to sell things online. They will now weigh the experience they gained and the mistakes they made so we will soon see increasing competition on online markets and a growing number of offers from players who used to be active only offline," Deputy Director of the National Agency for Financial Studies Timur Aimaletdinov emphasized.

President of the National Association of Distance Selling Alexander Ivanov expects online trade in Russia to increase by 15-20% in 2020. "The crisis has turned out to be a major educational project. Almost everyone now knows how to shop online, even many elderly people," he pointed out.

According to the association, Russia’s overall online trade stands at about $20 bln. Foreign retailers account for around $3 bln, yet they saw their sales sink during the lockdown due to shipping issues. However, now, according to Ivanov, "they will make up for that."


Izvestia: Russian companies to hit peak of coronavirus vaccine production in February 2021

Russian companies will produce about 500,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine in October, reaching their peak of production by February 2021, Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov told Izvestia.

"We expect that about 500,000 doses of the vaccine to be produced in October, and two to three million doses will be manufactured before the end of the year. We plan to hit the production peak in February next year," he pointed out.

Manturov explained that Russia was able to export the shipments of several hundred to several thousand doses of the vaccine without harming the domestic market, while larger supplies required setting up production facilities overseas.

"When we talk about export supplies, we primarily refer to the establishment of joint production facilities at existing enterprises. It takes more than a month, two months or even a year to build a new production facility because you need to get all the permits and carry out conciliation proceedings," Manturov noted. "The Russian Direct Investment Fund is working with other countries, particularly with their healthcare agencies, to begin cooperation and local vaccine production, taking into account the vaccine's formula developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. This is the work we mean when we talk about large export volumes," the minister stressed.

The Gamaleya Institute's vaccine is currently being produced by the Binnopharm company. The Generium and R-Pharm companies will launch its production in October or November. Other manufacturers may also join them in order to make sure that its production grows unhindered, Manturov emphasized.


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