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Press review: Russians look forward to Putin’s Q&A and Georgia sets sight on EU in 2024

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, June 30th

Izvestia: Russians look forward to ‘Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’ amid pandemic, rising prices

Russians’ interest in the annual televised Q&A session dubbed ‘The Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’ is fueled by reports of the introduction of compulsory vaccination in a number of regions and a new peak in the coronavirus pandemic, Director General of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) Valery Fedorov told Izvestia. It is expected that on June 30, the number of questions for the president will surpass the one million mark, according to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov. People expect Putin to answers questions that local authorities cannot, experts said.

Interest is great in the Q&A session and this was also confirmed by a recent poll by the Public Opinion Research Center. Thirty-five percent of the respondents intend to closely monitor the event, another 12% plan to watch the live broadcast, and 39% said that they would find out about the main points from the news. Only about 13% of the survey’s participants said they would not watch the live broadcast.

General Director of the Research Center Valery Fedorov explained to Izvestia that the event has become an effective tool for solving problems. "First, Vladimir Putin has been and remains the number one politician, there is no alternative, so there are many people who want to talk. Second, the Q&A session has become an effective way to solve regional or local problems, a way to voice needs and aspirations," he explained.

Experts also believe that people are waiting for the Q&A session, since often only this event can help force local authorities to iron out important regional, city, or personal issues. "The fact is that in the public space of Russia there is only one political figure - the president - and people associate solving all problems with him," head of the Institute of Political Technologies Evgeny Suchkov told Izvestia.

Political strategist Alexander Tverdov believes that the majority of the public will be concerned about three topics: the decrease in income, the quality and availability of drugs amid the mounting coronavirus incidence, and containing rising prices. People appeal to the president, because often only he can influence a particular situation, the expert said.


Izvestia: Georgia aims for EU membership in 2024

Georgia is marking the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that in 2024 Tbilisi would apply to join the European Union. According to him, the country will also continue to strive for NATO membership. The Georgian Foreign Ministry noted that over the past seven years, the export of Georgian products to the EU has grown by 15%, and trade with the EU occupies 24% of the country's foreign trade turnover. However, Brussels has cautioned Tbilisi against getting its hopes up too high. Expert told Izvestia they believe that Georgian politicians may declare their aspiration to join the EU, but there is no real rapprochement.

Europe emphasizes that Tbilisi should not expect anything. Chair of the Delegation for relations with the South Caucasus, MEP Marina Kaljurand said that there are many countries in the EU that oppose the expansion of the association.

The reasons are simple to understand, Izvestia writes. On the one hand, unresolved territorial problems are one of the obstacles to integration into international structures, so with that in mind, Georgia continues to challenge the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On the other hand, the country’s economy is in poor shape. In 2020, 21.3% of the population was below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate was 18.5%. At the same time, the stability of the country’s political system raises serious questions.

Experts believe that there are no prospects for Georgia's accession to the EU in the foreseeable future. "It makes no sense for Brussels to take on additional problems. The European Union already receives everything it needs from Georgia, but it does not shoulder responsibility for the country," Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Countries Vladimir Zharikhin told Izvestia.

Georgian political scientist Archil Sikharulidze told Izvestia the country is not ready to join the EU. "For some reason, Georgian politicians believe that the European Union will act as a donor, or sponsor. But this will not happen, Brussels has to solve its own problems. Nowadays, the Georgian economy is simply unable to fulfill all the EU’s directives and requirements," the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Belarus suspends participation in EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative

The European Union plans to adopt its fifth package of sanctions against the Lukashenko government in July. Meanwhile, Minsk announced retaliatory steps to Brussels’ restrictions. Belarus plans to suspend its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative and embark on suspending the readmission agreement with the EU. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the counter-sanctions announced by Minsk will in no way affect the tough position of the EU and could do more damage to the country than Europe’s actions.

European Union's Head of Delegation to Belarus Ambassador Dirk Schuebel was summoned to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. He was informed that Minsk is suspending its participation in the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative.

The majority of experts believe that, by suspending its participation in the Eastern Partnership, Minsk is shooting itself in the foot. "Tens of millions of euro went from Brussels to the Belarusian border infrastructure. Now, Minsk is refusing this all this out of spite," according to political observer Vitaly Tsygankov.

Political analyst Petr Kuznetsov noted that "smart countries" within the framework of this initiative were able to gain access to programs worth hundreds of millions of euro, including for overcoming the pandemic, yet Belarus did not use these opportunities.

In assessing the consequences of Minsk's response to the sanctions, analysts point to the actual collapse of the famous Belarusian multi-vector, which Alexander Lukashenko had always touted. "These are not sanctions or counter-sanctions, because the EU will not lose anything from this. This is burning bridges in its purest form," Kuznetsov said.

In this situation, the risks of Belarus being tied to Russia increase, political observer Artem Shraibman believes. Other experts also speak about this as a possibility to lose independence.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Lifting sanctions against Iran to hit other oil suppliers, including Russia

Participants of the OPEC+ deal may announce an increase in the permitted level of oil output on Thursday. Demand for oil is growing, stocks are declining, and the price is being held at around $75 per barrel. Should the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna turn out to be successful, then the sanctions may be lifted from Tehran, thereby allowing millions of extra barrels of oil to pour into the market, which would cover the increased demand. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that removing the sanctions against Iran will certainly hit other suppliers, including Russia, but they do not expect this to happen overnight.

The OPEC+ decision is still unclear, FINAM analysts believe. According to them, Russia will propose increasing production. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is concerned about the possible negative consequences of the new coronavirus outbreak, and many members of the cartel oppose stepping up production while Iran is negotiating the deal.

The US lifting sanctions against Tehran is currently the only option for a large-scale increase in Iran's oil production, but the possibility of such a scenario is on the decline, experts believe.

"When and if sanctions are lifted, production may grow from that level by another 1.5-2 mln, that is, up to 4.5 mln barrels per day. But I don’t think that this factor will be considered at the next OPEC+ meeting, because there is still too much uncertainty," Director of the Energy Development Fund and member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Energy Sergey Pikin told the newspaper.

In any case, additional Iranian oil will enter the market at the expense of other parties to the agreement, with Russia quite likely among them, Pikin added. At the same time, according to the expert, the Iranian factor is now significant, but not as critical as in 2016, when OPEC+ was formed. In addition, Iran boosting its share to 10% of global output would be possible only with very large foreign investments, which are unlikely to come to the country with this level of risk, Pikin added.


Kommersant: Russian authorities adjust vaccination and revaccination plans

The Kremlin admitted that it would not be possible to vaccinate 60% of Russians by the fall, and this number, according to the Ministry of Health, is necessary to form herd immunity. As of June 23, 20.7 mln people received their first vaccine doses, while 16.7 mln (about 11.5%) received their second doses. At the same time, the authorities have already presented a plan for revaccination. Experts told Kommersant, the threshold of population immunity strongly depends on the virus mutations.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko unveiled the guidelines for revaccination: "taking into account the unfavorable epidemiologic situation in the country", the second vaccination can be done six months after the illness and the primary vaccination. After herd immunity is reached and after the situation stabilizes, vaccination can be carried out once a year.

Meanwhile, there is no consensus in the scientific community about the need and timing of revaccination. Head of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Medical Research at the European University at St. Petersburg Anton Barchuk told Kommersant that today there is no reliable data on whether mass revaccination is needed, when it is needed, or what antibody titer is considered "high".

At the same time, experts believe that the threshold of the population immunity strongly depends on how the virus spreads. According to the WHO, the Indian strain (recently officially identified in 90% of Moscow patients) is twice as infectious as its original Wuhan counterpart. Thus, to achieve herd immunity, 70-80% of people with immunity to the virus may be needed.

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