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Press review: Yerevan, Baku need to make concessions and Lukashenko to split opposition

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 20
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Maxim Guchek/BelTA/TASS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
© Maxim Guchek/BelTA/TASS

Izvestia: Baku, Yerevan need to make concessions to hold productive talks

Dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan can only prove fruitful if both Yerevan and Baku make certain concessions, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. Both leaders pointed out on October 19 that they were ready to hold talks in Moscow. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow is in contact with the parties to the conflict in relation to the establishment of ceasefire verification groups in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, political scientists note that a truce will become a reality only after the situation on the frontline stabilizes.

Armenia and Azerbaijan need to create a working group on resolving the conflict, which should include the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers, as well as representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Vodolatsky told the newspaper.

"Such an approach will make it possible to discuss the situation at various levels," the lawmaker explained. "However, no mechanism will be effective until observers from third countries enter the region," he added.

According to political scientist Denis Denisov, the creation of a working group and talks between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will have little impact on the situation. "So far, both Yerevan and Baku have a strong distrust of each other as they believe that the other party seeks either to use the negotiations as breathing space to rearm or to prolong the conversation while keeping up fighting to gain a more advantageous position," the expert pointed out.

Institute of CIS Countries Deputy Director Vladimir Yevseyev believes that all ceasefire initiatives will keep failing until the situation on the southern front stabilizes. Until then, the two heads of state should not be expected to hold a meeting. Yevseyev also emphasized that once the frontlines are stabilized, it will be easier for Baku and Yerevan to agree to the deployment of observers and peacekeepers to the region.


Media: OPEC+ moves to maintain oil production cut deal

OPEC+ countries’ decision to fully maintain their oil production cut deal is thoroughly appropriate amid the risks of a second coronavirus wave, experts interviewed by Izvestia believe.

Due to rising coronavirus cases, many countries are introducing new restrictions, people are travelling less and demand for energy is on the decline. At the same time, changes on the oil market are hard to estimate because of the new infection outbreaks, Deputy Director General of the National Energy Institute Alexander Frolov pointed out. A clear example of that was the news about US President Donald Trump contracting the virus, which immediately drove Brent crude prices down by nearly 4%.

The current level of oil prices - above $40 per barrel - is comfortable for the Russian budget, noted Darya Kozlova, who heads oil and gas regulation at Vygon Consulting. There is a need to keep an eye on the COVID-19 quarantine situation and make a decision for the next year if things get significantly worse, she added.

Sberbank Commodity Market Strategist Mikhail Sheibe, in turn, told Kommersant that it was too early to make forecasts about the outcome of a major OPEC+ meeting scheduled to take place on November 30 and December 1. Until then, the market will remain under the influence of a number of factors, namely the possibility of changes in America's foreign and energy policies following the November 3 presidential election (including sanctions on Iran) and the pace of Libya's oil production recovery, as well as the pandemic and progress in developing vaccines and treatments.

According to Sheibe, if the market situation is unfavorable, OPEC+ will be ready to respond to it, which is why Sberbank expects that oil prices will rise to the $50 per barrel level in the fourth quarter of the year and will continue to recover in 2021.


Media: Lukashenko seeks to create loyal opposition

The Belarusian authorities seek to establish a loyal opposition by releasing activists from pretrial detention centers, experts point out. The move is mainly aimed at driving a wedge between the government’s opponents and creating the appearance of dialogue as the first step towards social harmony, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Member of the presidium of the opposition's Coordination Council Lilia Vlasova and political strategist Vitaly Shklyarov were transferred to house arrest on Monday. The news was announced by businessman Yuri Voskresensky who had been released earlier following a meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko and said that he would engage in discussions on constitutional reform and compile lists of those who needed to be released from custody.

"The authorities seek to implement a project that started with Lukashenko’s visit to the KGB pretrial detention center and create a loyal opposition group or at least imitate it in order to sow discord among the protesters and announce that on the one hand, there are constructive opposition forces ready to participate in a constitutional process and on the other hand, there are extremists," political scientist Valery Karbalevich said. "The government wants to show its readiness for dialogue with the constructive opposition," he added.

The Belarusian authorities had started to release opposition figureheads shortly before former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya issued an ultimatum, demanding that Lukashenko step down by October 25, end violence on the street and release all political prisoners. If the opposition figurehead’s demands are not met, all of the country’s people will take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations and a nationwide strike will begin, she warned.

Karbalevich told Vedomosti that Tikhanovskaya’s ultimatum should be taken with a grain of salt. "The Belarusian protests are practically not managed by anyone and aren’t controlled by anyone. They are the result of social self-organization," the expert emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Chinese economy recovers as world struggles with coronavirus

Once the epidemic is defeated, it is possible to quickly return to normal life, as can be seen from the Q3 figures released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. The country’s economy has increased by 4.9% and experts expect that by January, the annual growth rate will exceed 5%, which Beijing considers to be the appropriate minimum level, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

China worked to restore its economy in phases. In late January, most economic activities were suspended and the lockdown lasted until late March. In April, the country's authorities decided to reopen its industrial facilities. Consequently, China increased its share in global exports, particularly providing face masks to other countries. The third quarter saw a rise in consumption and retail trade grew in August for the first time in 2020.

Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out that "the five-percent growth rate is the red line for the Chinese government." According to the expert, Beijing said earlier that "it will do everything possible to prevent the rate from falling below that level. Otherwise, employment and budget issues will arise. The previous levels of 6%-6.5% are unlikely to be achieved in the coming year or two but every possible effort will be made to ensure the 5%-5.5% level. The third-quarter figures have come close to that level," Lomanov noted.

According to the expert, China has paid a high price, but managed to overcome the pandemic, gaining an advantage over other countries that are facing a second wave of infections. Their move to focus the economy on domestic demand also contributed towards this success. China is increasingly using its vast domestic market to mitigate unfavorable external influence, including Washington’s decision to limit Beijing’s access to Western technologies, Lomanov concluded.


Vedomosti: Media outlets losing interest in coronavirus pandemic

Although according to official statistics, the COVID-19 situation in Russia is getting worse, nationwide media outlets are paying increasingly less attention to the pandemic, Vedomosti writes, citing estimates by Medialogia.

The word "coronavirus" and its synonyms have been used by national newspapers, magazines, online media outlets, radio stations and TV channels more than 6.5 mln times since December 1, 2019.

References peaked in April 2020 and then started to steadily decline.

The frequency of the words "pandemic" and "epidemic" has also been declining since April despite the fact that the issue clearly remains relevant.

April’s high frequency of words related to the pandemic was apparently rooted not so much in a rise in infections but in large-scale restrictions that actually changed people’s way of life, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov explained.

However, in the expert’s opinion, there is every chance that the current month of October will see a rise in the use of such words, particularly if new restrictions are imposed.

Meanwhile, according to the Public Opinion Foundation, developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region took the spotlight for Russians over the past week, while the coronavirus pandemic receded to second place, Vinogradov emphasized. In his view, the frequency of coronavirus-related words declined sharply in the summer particularly because the media responded to the annoyance expressed by COVID dissidents who had grown tired of a tsunami of news on the topic.


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