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Press review: Zelensky goads Belarus and Israel summons Russian envoy over remarks

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, December 11
Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ/POOL
Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky

Izvestia: Ukraine picks fight with Belarus in favor of the West

The leaders of Ukraine and Lithuania have agreed "to support Belarusian civil society." According to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky promised to join the EU’s package of sanctions against Belarusian officials. However, despite its assurances, Kiev has changed its mind at the last minute, refusing to introduce restrictions against Belarus, considering its close trade ties with Minsk, Izvestia reports. The newspaper looks at why Ukraine decided to pick a fight with Belarus, which has always supported Kiev.

Minsk is completely justified in taking offense at the behavior of their Ukrainian colleagues, the newspaper notes. When the military conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted, Belarus took on a neutral position, trying to act as a mediator to solve the conflict and providing a platform for negotiations. The Minsk Agreements were signed in the Belarusian capital and formed the basis of the Donbass conflict regulation.

"The Belarusian leader often named Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West as a negative example. Zelensky did not like that Lukashenko was becoming closer and closer with Moscow, while distancing itself from the West and Kiev. He had to react to that somehow. However, the Ukrainian president is trying to maintain some freedom to maneuver in order to carry on trade and diplomatic relations in case the situation in Minsk changes. Unlike the Poles and the Lithuanians, Zelensky does not want to burn bridges in case of any unexpected turns," Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Director General Andrey Kortunov told Izvestia.

Senior Researcher at the Russian State University for the Humanities Alexander Gushchin noted that Zelensky’s foreign policy is similar to that of his predecessors. The political analyst added, however, that Kiev is unlikely to back up its rhetoric with actions. "Belarus is an important trade partner for Ukraine. On some trade fundamentals, the Ukrainian economy depends on Belarusian export, so in this case, I don’t think there will be any large-scale sanctions from Kiev," the expert said. "However, it will place itself in opposition to the political regime in Minsk."


Kommersant: Moldova’s Dodon recalls ambassador to Russia as Sandu’s presidency approaches

The Moldovan Ambassador to Russia is at the epicenter of a political dispute, Kommersant reports. Incumbent President Igor Dodon, who is set to leave office soon as Maia Sandu’s presidency approaches, has recalled the country’s ambassador to Russia, and is planning to appoint one of his supporters as the new envoy. Vladimir Golovatiuc, an MP representing the Dodon-led Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, has been proposed as a candidate. Golovatiuc’s appointment may sour Russia’s relations with Maia Sandu, who is set to begin her official term on December 24.

This week, Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Andrei Negutsa has been recalled due to a drug scandal. A large batch of drugs was found on the embassy’s bus on December 5 as it was crossing the Moldovan-Ukrainian border.

Appointing a new Moldovan ambassador to Russia is Dodon’s main goal that he will try to achieve before his departure. There is not a lot of time left given that on December 10, the Moldovan Constitutional Court finalized the results of the November election, and on December 24, the inauguration of the new president will be held.

If Moscow decides to meet the outgoing president halfway and agrees to approve the candidate proposed by Dodon, it may sour the beginning of relations with President-elect Maia Sandu. Kommersant’s sources note that Sandu was expecting Negutsa to hold on to his position before the drug scandal.

"Any other ambassador will work for Dodon, and not the state. They won’t try to iron out difficulties, but instead work to exacerbate them. Judging by this logic, any diplomat in this position is preferable to Dodon’s personal representative," a source in Sandu’s camp told Kommersant.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israel summons Russian envoy over remarks

Russian-Israeli relations have begun to exhibit worrying symptoms, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post, which sparked a diplomatic scandal and forced the embassy to provide an explanation. In his interview, the ambassador harshly criticized Israel. "The problem in the region is not Iranian activities," Viktorov told the Jerusalem Post. "It’s a lack of understanding between countries and noncompliance with UN resolutions in the Israel-Arab and Israel-Palestinian conflict."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned Viktorov to receive an explanation of his statements. The Russian Embassy in Israel stated that "this is the case when media representatives add their own connotations to the interview." However, the article shows that Viktorov did say some harsh statements.

Despite the embassy’s explanations, the publication of such an article in the Jerusalem Post points to a change in Russian-Israeli relations, Nezavisimaya Gazeta stated. The looming presidency of Joe Biden is likely to lead to Russia and the US having more or less similar stances on the nuclear program of Israel’s main regional adversary: Iran. Biden is considered a supporter of the US return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear deal, which Russia has defended amid incumbent US President Donald Trump’s policy "of maximum pressure" on Iran.

Israel can only react negatively to the idea of renewed negotiations with Iran that is likely to be supported by two global powers. The Jewish state does not believe that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions can be curbed through dialogue. In these conditions, the Israelis are more likely to use unilateral methods and act by force, which the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has shown, the newspaper suggests. The return to the JCPOA can be a good and rare example of successful cooperation between Moscow and Washington with the aid of Europe, however, it may also sour relations with the Israelis and raise military risks. In this regard, Russia will have to look for new ways to maintain the balance of its policy in the Middle East, Nezavisimaya Gazeta concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Central Bank fails to convince Russians of ruble’s stability

Judging by the actions of Russia’s Central Bank using the criteria named by Russians themselves, the regulator is not exercising its functions well enough, despite the favorable relations with the Russian government and positive evaluations by Western experts, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation shows that the majority of citizens think that the state should stabilize and reinforce the ruble. On the contrary, throughout 2020, the Russian currency continued to drop against the dollar, which affected the lives of regular citizens.

Over half of those polled (53%) think that a strong ruble is beneficial for Russia’s economy, while 19% hold the opposite opinion. A whopping 28% remained undecided on this issue. Meanwhile, 38% of respondents believe that the Russian government should strengthen the ruble against other currencies, 30% said that the Russian state should keep the ruble stable. In other words, nearly 70% of Russians think that the government must not allow a depreciation of the ruble.

Judging by these criteria, it can be said that the Bank of Russia has not been exercising its functions well enough, since throughout 2020, the ruble has declined by about 20% against the dollar due to a 25% decrease in oil prices, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

"Despite the fact that in accordance with the federal law on the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, one of the main functions of the regulator is ensuring the protection and stability of the ruble, essentially, the Russian currency has been adrift since 2014," Anna Zaytseva, an analyst with Finam Holdings, told the paper.

Other experts point out, however, that some unforeseeable factors have been in play in 2020. "No one could have predicted such a factor as the pandemic, the restrictions related to it and so on. However, we have to note that there have been no sudden and shocking events in the economy and the financial system of our country. In many ways, this is due to the regulator’s efforts, which of course, did everything possible to alleviate the fluctuations of the ruble exchange rate, especially in the first half of the year," Artem Tuzov, executive director of the capital market department at Univer Capital, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.


Izvestia: Researchers propose using bee venom against COVID-19

German researchers from the Ortenau Clinic in Offenburg and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena have decided to test the hypothesis claiming that bee venom may be used to treat and prevent COVID-19, Izvestia informs. The researchers polled German beekeepers who faced the disease: 45 people (22%) informed that they have recovered from the disease, two people have died; 41% informed that they have not been infected despite coming into contact with COVID-19 patients, and 37% noted that they may have come into contact with COVID-19 patients, but they did not get sick. Most people in the last two groups have used propolis, a compound produced by bees.

Beekeeping products, including bee venom, are strong immunomodulators, which have a positive effect on the human immune system, said Maria Vedunova, who heads the Institute of Biology and Biomedicine at Lobachevsky University. "People who in one way or another systematically face various beekeeping products have a very good immune system, and they are a lot less prone to infections, including viral and respiratory diseases," the expert said.

Other experts are more skeptical about the use of beekeeping products to prevent and treat COVID-19. "Right now, we have no convincing and definitive proof received in accordance with the basic principles of practical medicine that beekeeping products are effective and safe," Nikita Zhuravlyov, a lab worker at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, told the paper.



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