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Press review: Trump blames China for cyber attack and Russia not closing skies with UK

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, December 21

Vedomosti: Trump blames China instead of Russia for massive cyberattack on US

The Trump administration decided not to publish a statement that was going to blame Russia for recently discovered hacker attacks using SolarWinds' software. On Friday night, the White House was supposed to formally accuse Russia of the cyberattack, but at the last minute it decided to postpone the publication. Meanwhile, Trump suggested that China, not Russia, may be behind the attack on the US government. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that the US establishment is trying to spin the attack for political gain.

Igor Ashmanov, president of the Kribrum analytical company, noted that according to the US national cyber strategy, Russia is seen as Washington’s chief adversary, while China is enemy number two. In his opinion, the SolarWinds attack is not the work of Russia, nor China. "Professional hackers belonging to state cyber troops do not behave like that. It's a common virus story, combat viruses don't work that way. A combat virus lives in the system for years, downloads data, and no one knows about it," Ashmanov told Vedomosti. According to the expert, SolarWinds is dangerous software, and by penetrating such a system once, hackers gain access to hundreds of organizations.

The reasons for the new hacker scandal in the United States are more or less clear, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov told the newspaper. One of the reasons is that US officials did not record any serious Russian interference in the elections. But to keep the American establishment "on the toes" and maintain an offensive position against Russia, other charges are being pursued that could be brought forward, the expert explained.

Trump's position is also understandable, he is trying to shift the focus from Russia to China and tie the hacker attacks to Beijing’s apparently meddling in the US presidential elections in favor of the Democrats, Kortunov added. Trump is trying to use the tactics of the Democrats and seeks to show that there is a ‘Chinese hand’ in Biden's victory. In addition, Trump might want to block possible steps by the Biden administration towards reaching some agreement with China, in particular a trade deal.

Kortunov did not rule out consequences for Russian-US relations if Biden insists on blaming Russia for the hacker attack. However, the expert does not expect dramatic consequences. Even if the United States undertakes new sanctions, they will most likely be symbolic.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: OPEC+ alarmed at Tehran’s plans to double its energy exports

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak plan to meet on Monday, December 21, where the parties are expected to touch upon Tehran's announced plans to double its oil exports. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in essence, Tehran's plans present a claim for part of the export revenues of Russia and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the expansion of the coronavirus pandemic, its mutations and vaccination problems are destroying the hopes of oil-producing countries for a recovery in demand next year.

Iran’s oil plans are related to the possible lifting of sanctions previously imposed against it by the Trump administration. Today, Iran, Libya and Venezuela are exempt from oil production cuts within the OPEC+ deal. Some experts and investors doubt that Iran will be able to return to the oil market quickly. According to Vitol's head of operations Mike Muller, the world is unlikely to see a lot of Iranian oil on the market in 2021, since easing sanctions is not a priority for the US.

However, Iran's desire to increase oil export volumes after the inauguration of the new US president looks like a serious obstacle to a gradual return of production in the OPEC+ countries, senior analyst at BCS World of Investments Vitaly Gromadin said. "The market believes that Biden will ease the sanctions on Iran. The supply of oil from Iran on the world market is a serious factor. A large amount of black gold has accumulated in the country's oil storage facilities, which Iran is ready to throw on the market," Head of the Alpari analytical center Alexander Razuvaev told the newspaper.

At the same time, experts consider the current mood on the market to be overly positive. "The drop in demand from new quarantine restrictions may be too rapid and strong for OPEC+ to be able to quickly agree on," Gromadin added. Problems with new vaccines and news about coronavirus mutations are other major risks for the oil market. "Towards the end of 2021, higher oil prices can be expected, given the general underfunding of field development and the return of demand, but market volatility will increase in the coming months," the experts believes.


Izvestia: Russia not planning to close air service with UK amid news of new coronavirus strain

Many European countries, as well as Israel, have suspended transport service with the United Kingdom due to a new strain of coronavirus that has appeared in Britain. According to the British authorities, it spreads 70% faster than the regular strain of the virus.

Meanwhile, Russia is not going to introduce additional restrictions on contacts with the United Kingdom, Izvestia writes. Russia’s State Duma and the Federation Council share the same opinion. First, it is necessary to obtain confirmation of any real danger of the mutated virus.

"Apart from the statements about the new strain from the UK Minister of Health, nothing else is known. Before talking about the dangers of the mutation, it is necessary to conduct serious scientific research. This year, information has been received many times about new dangerous strains of coronavirus, which has not been confirmed later," member of the State Duma’s Committee on Health Protection Boris Mendelevich told Izvestia. It is too early to rush to statements about additional serious restrictions, he added.

"I'm not sure that the UK virus, due to which borders are now being closed in Europe, is that dangerous. It is not necessarily the case that for example, Russia does not have a version of the virus that would spread faster," Head of the MIPT genomic engineering laboratory Pavel Volchkov told Izvestia. British scientists believe it is spreading 1.7 times faster, which is actually not easy to calculate, the expert added.

Moreover, around 50% of people who have come into contact with coronavirus in one way or another have immunity to it. But what exactly needs to be done is to speed up vaccination, Volchkov said.

Meanwhile, the daily number of COVID-19 cases in Russia has gone up again. Compared with last week, the number of cases has increased by almost 1,000 to 28,948 new cases per day. Experts told Izvestia that New Year’s celebrations could lead to a noticeable surge in morbidity.


Izvestia: Armenians’ anger at Pashinyan continues to mount

Political instability in Yerevan after the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh will continue, but the protests are unlikely to lead to an early change of power in Armenia, according to experts interviewed by Izvestia. The number of people disillusioned with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's policies is increasing every day due not only to the unsuccessful military campaign and the refugee problem, but also to the economic crisis amid the pandemic, the newspaper writes. However, the majority of Armenian citizens, according to experts, are apathetic and do not want a repeat of the coup of 2018.

More than a month has passed since the Nagorno-Karabakh armistice, but unrest continues to shake up Yerevan. Even the mourning procession on December 19, dedicated to those killed in Nagorno-Karabakh, experienced strife. This and other incidents demonstrate that the population is bitterly processing the losses and has not come to terms with the results of the war, political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan believes.

"The protest has already acquired a ‘political face’. Seventeen opposition parties united against the prime minister. The growing discontent rages on and is spreading. Even members of the clergy, universities, as well as media personalities are beginning to speak out on their position. But they still do not have sufficient political weight," the expert told Izvestia.

The current opposition is still scattered and fails to arouse sympathy among the majority of the population, the expert said. In addition, people understand that no political association will be able to magically solve these urgent problems, including the situation with refugees and the economic crisis.

Regional expert Johnny Melikian agrees and does not see any opportunities for the opposition to repeat a coup. However, former supporters continue to turn their backs on Pashinyan, and failure for him looms in the next elections, the expert added.


Kommersant: SberCloud market share surges amid pandemic

The Russian banking giant’s cloud service, SberCloud, by the end of 2020 will enter the top five cloud services providers in Russia with a market share of 6.2%, increasing revenue 14-fold, iKS-Consulting analysts forecasted. A year earlier, the banking giant occupied only 13th place with a share of 0.6%. Sber claims that this happened due to demand from large businesses. However, according to experts and competitors, contracts in the public sector and with the subsidiaries of Sber, which "floods the market with money," helped, Kommersant writes.

The sharp increase in the share of SberCloud is due to the low base in 2019, the general activity of the company, and a partnership with China’s Huawei, which offers its cloud services through SberCloud, according to iKS-Consulting.

The growth of almost all companies was influenced by the pandemic with its increased demand for computing resources, Director of development at Croc Cloud Services Maxim Berezin added. Businesses increased their capacity to organize remote work of their employees, launch and develop client online services, he explains. The largest drivers by industry are e-commerce, entertainment, and communication platforms, CEO of Oxygen data center network Pavel Kulakov added.

On the other hand, Kommersant's source in the industry believes that SberCloud resells the infrastructure of partners at a premium, including the structures of Sberbank proper. "Instead of building healthy market competition and making better products, they flood the market with money, monopolizing it," the source said, noting that the main growth factors for such companies are localization requirements, which make it difficult for global leaders to enter the Russian market.


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