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Press review: Russian MPs blast Navalny as Western pawn and Biden gears up to take office

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 20
Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin at the opening session of Russian State Duma Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS
Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin at the opening session of Russian State Duma
© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

Kommersant: Russian MPs accuse Navalny of destabilizing Russia in favor of the West

During the opening session of the Russian State Duma on January 19, a number of MPs voiced highly critical opinions of opposition politician Alexey Navalny. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and leaders of opposition factions accused the blogger of destabilizing the situation in Russia in the interests of the West.

Volodin explained his stance to Kommersant, stressing that "Navalny is a pawn in the hands of Western intelligence services, and an instrument used by foreign states in order to destabilize the situation in Russia."

After the plenary session, First Deputy Head of the United Russia faction in the State Duma Andrei Isayev told Kommersant that the position of the Duma speaker fully corresponds to his faction’s stance. He noted that Volodin had consulted with MPs about his speech before the session.

Meanwhile, it seems that Navalny’s supporters have decided to up the ante, the newspaper notes. After Navalny’s arrest, a wave of national protests has been set for January 23. Law enforcement authorities warn that activists mustn’t violate federal law on organizing rallies. What’s more, on Tuesday, the Anti-Corruption Fund founded by Navalny published a new investigative video about the career and property of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In it, the president is accused of receiving expensive "gifts" from his circle, including a palace in Russia’s Gelendzhik covering an area of over 17,000 square meters located on a specially protected coastal zone. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian media that the accusations "are essentially false," although he said that the Kremlin had not seen the clip.

Director for political analysis at INSOMAR company, sociologist Victor Poturemsky told Kommersant that according to his research, the population does not have a unified opinion on Navalny. On the one hand, people recognize him as an important opposition figure, and on the other hand, they are skeptical of his assertions that he was poisoned: "They either doubt this story or they do not understand it." For his part, President of the Petersburg Politics Foundation Mikhail Vinogradov noted that the Russian government seemingly does not have a clear strategy in this situation, and Alexey Navalny is not remaining inactive. "However, some players want to show that they have not shied away from a fight. Perhaps they expect that it will be particularly appreciated since some part of the establishment feels slightly at a loss after Navalny’s return," the expert commented in regards to the statements made by Russian lawmakers.


Izvestia: Biden gearing up for inauguration and first steps as US president

After the inauguration on January 20, President-elect Joe Biden is likely to return to the Paris Agreement and undo a number of immigration restrictions introduced by the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump, US experts quizzed by Izvestia note. According to the commentators, the prospects of Russian-US relations under Biden remain murky. However, everyone expects both sides to activate dialogue on prolonging New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expires in February. Meanwhile, Washington is getting ready for the inauguration ceremony and a Senate session is considering Trump’s impeachment.

During his first days as president, Biden already aims to "make America great" in his own way, Izvestia notes. According to the experts quizzed by Izvestia, the Democrat is likely to fulfil one of his main promises on January 20 and return to the Paris climate accords.

Richard Weitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the paper that Biden is likely to cancel some of the measures impeding the acceleration of immigration and granting asylum in the US introduced by the current administration. Professor Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, agrees with this stance. He noted that the incoming president is likely to make some important political statements during his first days in office. The Democrat is likely to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to NATO, express support for Ukraine and, perhaps, separately mention the situation in Belarus.

Many are intrigued by the prospects of Russian-American relations. During Trump’s term, he constantly stated that he wanted to get along with Moscow, but both powers were unable to find common ground. Politicians and analysts in Moscow and Washington tend to note that Russian-US cooperation had reached rock bottom in the past few years. So far, the future of bilateral relations looks bleak, Weitz said.

Nevertheless, there is one issue that both Russia and the United States may iron out very soon. The arms control system that was going to get deep-sixed and which Trump for some reason did not consider dangerous may be put on pause. The New START treaty, which expires on February 5, 2021, may yet have a chance to be prolonged.

The extension of New START for several years is likely to be one of the few areas where we will witness cooperation between Moscow and the new US administration over the next few weeks, Weitz told Izvestia. According to Aslund, Biden is just as interested in prolonging New START as the Kremlin.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Nord Stream 2 deemed to be politically risky project

Global investment in oil and gas production are unlikely to return to the pre-COVID level by late 2025, Wood Mackenzie predicts. This year, the demand for oil will continue growing, but the rise will be slower than expected, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Investors are looking into alternative sources of energy. This decade, up to 60% of global investment may be attracted to green technologies, the IEA pointed out. All this undermines the prospects of Russian export projects under political pressure, namely the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.

Gazprom recognized the political risks of such export projects as TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 in a new bond offering memorandum cited by foreign and Russian news agencies.

"Russian oil and gas will follow the global trends, because reduced revenue due to lower prices and export revenue concerns everyone," Skolkovo Energy Center expert Ekaterina Grushevenko highlighted. "The rise of renewable energy will affect the export flows of oil and gas in the long term."

"The oil and gas industry will need some time to recover after the 2020 crisis, when energy prices dropped by up to a third. Right now, their price is gradually going up, however, the biggest rise in oil prices is expected once countries will reopen their borders for tourist and business trips," Artem Lyutik, managing director at Univer Capital, told the paper. "At the same time, green energy will be developing in the near future, and by 2030, our country will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 70% compared to the 1990 level."

"The trend for clean energy became significantly stronger last year. Oil exporters, including Russia, are considering the development of hydrogen export projects," senior analyst at BCS World of Investments Vitaly Gromadin said, adding that if developed countries are ready to pay the corresponding price for hydrogen produced with electricity from renewable sources and from natural gas, Russia can move to exporting hydrogen instead of hydrocarbons, but, the issue remains open.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian economy to lose over $120 bln due to COVID-19

Russia’s excess mortality is set to exceed 330,000 people in 2020, with the economic damages due to COVID-19 coming up to some 9.1 trillion rubles (over $120 bln). This corresponds to almost a third of the funds allocated to the development of Russian healthcare until 2024, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.

In the first 11 months of 2020, nearly 230,000 more people died in Russia than in the corresponding period of last year. According to Abel Aganbegyan, professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), regarding the outcomes of 2020, excess mortality is likely to surpass 300,000 people. Since 2016, this figure dropped annually by 30,000, so it seems that the actual number will surpass 330,000 people.

According to Alexander Shcherbakov, another professor at RANEPA, concerning the outcomes of the year, Russia should revise its demographic policy and take more radical measures to implement the national project in this sphere. Along with the natural decline of the population, the migration numbers are down due to the pandemic, as fewer foreigners are arriving in Russia due to coronavirus restrictions.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian healthcare system was unable to ensure accessible care for people with chronic diseases, Aganbegyan said. According to him, there were not enough human or financial resources due to constant underfunding.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, Russia invested 5.3% of its GDP into the healthcare system, ranking 118th among 189 countries in total. Additional healthcare investments during the pandemic helped raise this figure to 5.6%, however, Russia will still rank just 112th on this list, Aganbegyan predicts.

Lilia Ovcharova, who supervises HSE’s research and expert analysis in social policy and human capital, told the paper that with the current level of funding, Russia cannot expect to raise the life expectancy level higher than 75 years. She noted that additional funds should be allocated to raising the level of competence of Russian doctors to reach this goal.


Izvestia: Tea may inactivate coronavirus in human saliva, researchers suggest

Black tea inactivates SARS-CoV-2 in human saliva if held in the mouth for 10 seconds, Japanese researchers suggest. After coming into contact with tea, the virus count in human saliva of COVID-19 patients dropped to undetectable levels. Russian experts quizzed by Izvestia confirmed that this effect is possible, as tea contains tanning substances that can destroy the protein around the virus which helps it penetrate the cell. However, this effect does not last for too long, and in a few minutes, the virus is likely to accumulate in the saliva again.

Japanese researchers from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine suggest that taking a slow sip of black tea is enough to inactivate the novel coronavirus in human saliva. Tea contains catechin antioxidants, which create biologically active compounds depending on the type of tea. Researchers suggest that these compounds can help eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Russian experts have varying opinions on the antiviral effect of tea. Georgy Suslyanok, a researcher with the Moscow State University of Food Production (MSUFP), told the paper that tea really can hinder the multiplication of the coronavirus. However, even if there is an antiviral effect, it is unclear how long it lasts, Igor Nikitin, an expert with the Moscow State University of Technology and Management, noted. It is likely that the effect will not last long, so one would have to drink tea constantly to prevent infection.

"It is easier to wear a mask," the expert said. "However, good tea is harmless in practically any quantities, so tea lovers can lower the risk of infecting other people with pleasure. There are some restrictions for drinking tea, but they are not significant," he concluded.


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