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Press review: Biden’s incoming cabinet picks and Netanyahu’s 'secret' Saudi visit

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, November 24
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu AP Photo/Tal Shahar, Yediot Ahronot, Pool
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
© AP Photo/Tal Shahar, Yediot Ahronot, Pool

Izvestia: Biden announces first cabinet posts of his administration

Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential winner, announced the first appointments to his future cabinet, mostly familiar faces that had served under President Barack Obama. Antony Blinken will be appointed Secretary of State, Jake Sullivan is the National Security Advisor-designate, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield will represent the US at the UN. In addition, Biden named ex-Secretary of State John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Experts interviewed by Izvestia noted that the new team in Washington may turn out to be more traditional and professional than the Trump administration. Although Russian-US relations are unlikely to improve significantly under Biden, the new appointments may have some advantages for future cooperation.

It is no surprise that Biden picked former officials from the Obama administration, Director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Garbuzov told Izvestia. He added that the new picks are sparking rumors that Obama may play a prominent role behind the scenes of the new administration. Obama remains the most popular member of the Democratic Party and its informal leader, so it is possible that the former president will help strengthen the positions of his party in the run-up to the next election.

"The most important thing is that a new team containing more experienced and professional bureaucrats than those under Trump is being assembled. Besides, he [Trump] reshuffled his team many times," the expert said. "Of course, these people will continue the course in relations with Russia that has already been set, and that began to be shaped under Obama, by the way. Antagonism against the foreign policy course of Russia and China is what both parties have in common. However, in the Biden administration’s case, it is possible that contacts with Moscow will become more traditional."

According to him, one of the main problems of the past four years was the illusion that Donald Trump wanted to be friends with Russia. This has affected Moscow’s policy towards the US, since for some time, the general opinion was that "everyone in Washington is bad and they simply won’t let Trump get along with Moscow," the analyst said.

"The fact that there will be no compelling rhetoric of this kind from the US president may have a sobering effect on Russian-US relations," Garbuzov concluded.


Kommersant: Israeli PM Netanyahu allegedly pays secret visit to Saudi Arabia

According to Israeli and American media outlets, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly paid an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The alleged visit took place at the same time as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the kingdom. Netanyahu’s office did not confirm nor deny the reports.

Reportedly, Netanyahu, along with Director of Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) Yossi Cohen visited the Saudi city of Neom located just 75 km away from the Israeli Red Sea coastal resort of Eilat on Sunday. There, they held a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. All leading Israeli media published this report on Monday citing their sources, along with the US-based Wall Street Journal.

According to the sources, Netanyahu and bin Salman discussed a number of issues, including normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab states, as well as the topic of Iran, however, no major agreements were reached.

"If Netanyahu’s trip to Saudi Arabia did take place, its goal may have been to consolidate positions in the run-up to the Biden presidency. It is important both for the Israelis and the Saudis that Washington maintain its tough position on Tehran, namely on its nuclear program," said Ksenia Svetlova, an expert at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, in an interview with Kommersant. When asked about a possible Israeli strike against Iran, she noted that the country’s forces do not consider it an effective way of confronting Tehran so far, since it won’t lead to a regime change. It might just slow down the development of the Iranian nuclear program for a while and give Tehran an excuse for a retaliatory attack on Israel.

"Trump’s exit deals a serious blow to the Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, too. The Saudis hope that the Biden administration will not change its policy on Tehran, and stress that they hope to continue their partnership with Washington by various means," Professor at Moscow State University’s School of World Politics Grigory Kosach told Kommersant. "As for the normalization of relations with Israel, this process will slow after Donald Trump leaves. So far, it is not in Riyadh’s interest to make its contacts with the Israelis public. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu needs to score domestic points."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: German businesses denounce US sanctions against Nord Stream 2

US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline contradict international law, Chairman of the German Eastern Business Association Oliver Hermes stated. However, American officials continue threatening German companies involved in the project with restrictions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. German businesses call on Washington to abstain from "economic fines" for the future of transatlantic cooperation. Experts point out that there are some ways that Washington can influence Berlin’s economy. One of these is decreasing deliveries of American LNG to Germany.

Berlin hopes that under a Biden administration, the project will get the green light. However, multiple statements promising a further crackdown on the pipeline show that this is unlikely. However, German businesses are still full of hope, the paper points out. Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Friday that the German Eastern Business Association had addressed US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a request to abandon the sanctions against Nord Stream 2.

Experts quizzed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta note that there are few chances the White House will change its rhetoric under Joe Biden. "Biden has stated repeatedly that he is strictly against the construction and that he won’t let it conclude. Besides, the Senate and the House of Representatives have already drafted the 2021 defense budget, which includes many measures aimed at countering the construction of Nord Stream 2. The budget should be approved by the end of the year," Artem Tuzov, executive director of the capital market department at Univer Capital, told the paper.

He added that German politicians hope to reach a deal with the US. "German businesses vow to build new terminals for receiving American LNG, and the US won’t introduce new sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, it seems that such an agreement has not been reached so far," the expert said.

Tuzov also doubts that Germany and the EU will be able to refuse deliveries of American LNG in the near future.


Nezavizimaya Gazeta: Lukashenko cracks down on reporters as protests continue

Nine Belarusian reporters are defendants in criminal cases, facing up to three years behind bars, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports, citing the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The organization notes that the current pressure on journalists in the country is unprecedented.

As of November 23, there are 16 reporters remaining behind bars, and 363 have been detained since the start of the protests in total. All of them represent non-governmental mass media, with the majority charged for participating in unsanctioned protests.

Meanwhile, the protests in Belarus continue. Human rights activists point out that no criminal proceedings have been launched against law enforcement officers for brutality against protesters, with UN experts having documented 450 cases of torture and violence back at the start of the demonstrations. Experts say that under the current government, no criminal cases will be launched on this matter, adding that this will encourage police to use any kind of violence requested by those in power. However, if the government goes back on this deal, many will change their tune and stop following orders, the paper notes.

"The pressure on journalists is unprecedented," the Belarusian Association of Journalists informs. "We consider the persecution of journalists cynical revenge for the uncomfortable truth that we bring to the country’s residents," Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of the news website, said. "We demand an end to the persecution of Belarusian reporters covering protests. They are sitting in jail simply for doing their job," she stressed.

In its statements regarding pressure on the media, the association points out that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the Belarusian Constitution and the country’s international legal obligations.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Belarusian law enforcement began to crack down on senior citizens, the last group of protesters that they had spared before, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. Dozens of buses with police came to disperse Monday’s "March of Wisdom," traditionally involving senior citizens. At the same time, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed the ways to counter "the destructive forces trying to shake up the country" during a meeting with Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin.


Izvestia: Russian experts research COVID-19 cell immunity

Russian scientists have researched COVID-19 cell immunity, finding out that this defense mechanism can be active both among those who recovered from the infection and those who have never contracted the virus. It seems that some of those tested have had an asymptomatic case of the disease, or they had T-cell immunity to other seasonal coronaviruses, experts quizzed by Izvestia suggest. These findings will help develop effective COVID-19 vaccines and precise test systems.

Among the majority of those infected, T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, can recognize fragments of the virus, research held by the National Research Center for Hematology of the Russian Health Ministry informs. Besides, it was determined that people who had not contracted COVID-19 still have T-cells that react to the virus.

"We do not fully understand the nature of this immune response," one of the paper’s authors, an employee of the National Research Center for Hematology, Alina Shomuradova told Izvestia. "T-cell response can be observed due to the fact that immunological memory to other coronaviruses that were around us before 2019 is activated. Or, for example, these people had an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and did not develop antibodies to the virus."

Understanding which fragments of the virus are recognized by most people’s immune systems will help work out how effective COVID-19 vaccines are and whether they contain these unique areas. This will also help develop precise test systems that will show the level of T-lymphocytes and detect the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and not some other types of coronaviruses.

The majority of modern vaccines are aimed not only at developing antibodies, but at forming cell immunity as well, Director of Kazan Federal University’s Research Clinical Center for Precision and Regenerative Medicine Albert Rizvanov told Izvestia. The findings of Russian researchers are important not only because they help understand some fundamental processes, but they also have practical value, he pointed out.


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