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Press review: Pompeo’s surprise Tbilisi tour and Russia’s revenge against Silicon Valley

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, November 20
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seen during meeting with Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Georgia's Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani in Tbilisi AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seen during meeting with Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Georgia's Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani in Tbilisi
© AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool

Izvestia: US Secretary of State Pompeo pays surprise visit to Tbilisi

An unexpected and rather brief visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Tbilisi came in the wake of the Moscow-brokered Nagorno-Karabakh agreement signed by Azerbaijan and Armenia, Izvestia reports. Pompeo did not make any official statements, with the US State Department noting that all official announcements will be made after Pompeo concludes his regional tour and returns to the US.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili stated that Pompeo’s visit highlights the importance of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea Region for the US, especially in light of the recent events in the region.

Georgian security expert Vakhtang Maisaia told Izvestia that Pompeo’s surprise visit to Georgia, as well as his tour of Europe and the Middle East were timed to coincide with a number of events in the US and in the region.

"Mike Pompeo is due to address the Senate with a foreign policy report in December. Next, the unexpected turn of events in the region has prompted the US administration to act. Trump decided to activate [his] foreign policy after a lost election, primarily setting his sights on introducing tougher sanctions against Iran. Some even predicted that he might start a war with Iran," the pundit said. He also noted that the Trump administration decided to pull US troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, the security expert pointed to the events in Nagorno-Karabakh as the final factor.

According to Maisaia, Georgia was included on Pompeo’s tour, since it has a direct or indirect connection to these key aspects of Washington’s policy.

"Events of great global political significance, especially for the US, took place about 30-40 kilometers away from Georgia, namely, the events in Nagorno-Karabakh. Besides, Georgia borders Iran. What’s more, there is a transit corridor on Georgian soil, which the US used to deliver everything necessary to their troops and NATO coalition forces," he told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Armenian lawmakers to keep PM Pashinyan in power

It is likely that the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that seemed inevitable a week ago has been postponed indefinitely, Kommersant informs. On Wednesday evening, a small rally of his supporters took place in Yerevan, and on Thursday, lawmakers from the ruling parliamentary coalition - the My Step Alliance - stated that they do not want the PM to step down, since the country needs stability.

Pashinyan, who faced a great deal of backlash in Armenia after signing the Russia-brokered Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal with Azerbaijan, which was seen as "capitulation" by the opposition, seems to be taking control of the situation. After numerous rallies in Yerevan calling for his resignation, crowds of his supporters gathered in the Armenian capital on Wednesday evening.

The opposition forces were not moved by the support rally, with Artur Vanetsyan, ex-head of Armenia’s National Security Service noting that the participants of the rallies may have been "manipulated" to attend the rally. "The person who signed the capitulation has no moral right to be the people’s leader and to head the country," he insisted.

Meanwhile, lawmakers representing the My Step Alliance, which counts on two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, made it clear that they plan to keep Pashinyan on as PM. Vice President of Armenia’s National Assembly Lena Nazaryan stated that the My Step faction is not ready to replace Pashinyan even with a representative of the ruling party. "This may sound paradoxical, but we think that right now, Nikol Pashinyan is the factor stabilizing the situation in the country. I cannot imagine another candidate," she said.

Alen Simonyan, another vice president of the parliament, expressed the same opinion. "The people will decide whether Pashinyan should stay or go, and right now, we need to stabilize the situation and then discuss what to do," he told Kommersant. "I do not rule out holding a snap election, and I am sure that Pashinyan’s party will get the majority." When asked when martial law declared on September 27 will be lifted, the lawmaker said: "Martial law will be annulled when it becomes clear that the war is over. Right now, there is only a statement by the sides, and I think it would be wrong to cancel it based on the statement alone. The opposition has the right to say anything they want."

Meanwhile, the Armenian police continue to disperse protest rallies, detaining participants, and showing loyalty to the current government.


Kommersant: Russian legislators get tough with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube over censorship

On November 19, a team of Russian lawmakers submitted to the lower house a bill stipulating action against Silicon Valley’s discrimination of Russian media outlets. The bill seeks to fight censorship and deplatforming by global tech giants, namely Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Kommersant informs. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that tools are needed to counter censorship, and that they will be developed during the discussion of the bill. Experts quizzed by Kommersant have different takes on the bill. Some find it reasonable, while some warn that such initiatives may have a radical effect on the country’s media, its residents and the Russian state itself.

The press service of the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media informed Kommersant that restricting access to Russian media sources violates Article 29 of the Russian Constitution, and foreign companies have no right to do that. The watchdog did not respond to the paper’s question on the way the access to foreign platforms may be blocked or restricted.

Russian Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev thinks that the proposed initiative is too emotional, and that the bill and its consequences have not been thought through very well.

"The desire for a tit-for-tat response punishing those slipshod foreign companies is understandable on a human and emotional level. However, I think that introducing initiatives that may have an extremely radical effect on Russia’s information space, on the country’s residents and on the state itself is a very dangerous game," the ombudsman cautioned.

Meanwhile, political analyst Dmitry Yegorchenkov stated that foreign platforms present in Russia do not adhere to Russian law. "I don’t think that they should be fully blocked, since any strict ban in the information sphere is not very effective. However, there should definitely be some regulations," the expert stated.

"The efficiency of such measures is questionable from a practical point of view. People will use VPNs and anonymizers," said Karen Kazaryan, who heads the Internet Research Institute. "At the same time, mass blocking or [bandwidth] throttling may undermine user connection. This will be harmful to other resources. And if the infrastructure aspects are affected, the functioning of mobile apps may suffer. Throttling is a more expensive measure than blocking, it requires expensive equipment that we still do not have," he concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Biden presidency to accelerate clean energy policies to the detriment of Russia

The environmental plan of Joe Biden, the projected president of the US, includes a $2-trillion investment in the transition to renewable energy sources. The EU is also looking to introduce taxes and slap bans on traditional hydrocarbons that cause greenhouse emissions. Russia is not ready for a "green revolution" yet, which will now be supported by the US as well. Russian officials are working on their own strategy of lowering hydrocarbon emissions that seeks to cut greenhouse emissions by 2050 by 70-90% compared to the 1990 level, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informs. Western experts note that the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the move of developed countries towards low-carbon emissions.

The possible change in the White House will affect the importance of environmental and clean energy programs around the world. Biden’s election campaign was built on environmental initiatives. He aims to spend about $2 trillion in four years to fight climate change. According to his environmental plan, US power supply should be fully based on renewable energy sources by 2035.

Unlike many other states, Russia cannot tout an active environmental policy. Under the current presidential decree, Russia must lower emissions by 30% compared to the 1990 level. This modest goal characterizes Russia as a state that is not ready for a radical drop in emissions, and that even plans to increase them, experts of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) note. The shift of the majority of countries to zero emissions may lead to a decrease in demand for traditional energy sources, which will negatively affect Russia’s exporting prospects. According to HSE, Russia may lose up to a quarter of its revenue due to the environmental shift, and the country’s GDP may drop by 0.5 percentage points annually in the future.

Not only EU states, but also China, Japan, South Korea, and now the US, plan to lower carbon emissions, senior analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management "Skolkovo" Yuri Melnikov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "These goals are absolutely real - this is not some whim from politicians or a fleeting fad, as Russia tries to present it at times, it is the result of a wide public consensus based on the fight against climate change," he stressed.


Izvestia: COVID-19 vaccine hopes often used as bait by hackers

The share of e-mail scams offering a COVID-19 vaccine or information about it has risen, the Rostelecom-Solar security company informed Izvestia. About 15% of all e-mail scams undetected by spam filters are dedicated to the novel coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, cases of phishing have increased by 10%. Hackers tend to use the alleged information of a COVID-19 vaccine as a pretense to spread malware. The messages may contain offers to sell the vaccine or information on where a person can get vaccinated. After the user opens the letter, a virus is loaded on their computer, which can encrypt all the data on the device, get access to bank cards and passwords, as well as the user’s online services.

The more popular a news topic is, the more likely it is that it will be used for some criminal means, and COVID-19 is the main topic of discussion throughout the world. So, it is not surprising that it is being exploited by scammers. People open their attachments often, which is already half the battle for hackers, head of the Internet-Rozysk company Igor Bederov told the paper.

The most dramatic rise of fraud cases related to COVID-19 was recorded in April 2020. At the peak, the share of phishing schemes reached up to 60% of the total number of malicious emails, Alexey Malnev, head of the center of monitoring and response to incidents of cybersecurity of Jet CSIRT of the Jet Infosystems Company, said. For the most part, the scammers used social engineering methods aimed against individuals. The hackers often looked to obtain confidential information, banking data, and online accounts of a certain individual, he added.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews.