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Press review: WHO opposes COVID booster shots and where is the ruble headed

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, July 14th

Izvestia: Lukashenko meets with Putin amid tensions with EU

Belarus remains a reliable partner for Russia, despite the sanctions and the fight against coronavirus, Minsk serves the loans provided to it, Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko. In turn, Lukashenko spotlighted security issues. Experts interviewed by Izvestia noted that Lukashenko’s regular visits to Russia are largely due to the international situation and the pressure that the West has been exerting on the country lately.

There are a number of areas in Russian-Belarusian relations that require constant adjustments. In particular, economic cooperation and interaction on the Union State, Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov said in an interview with Izvestia. Roadmaps for the integration of the two countries remains one of the main directions. The politicians also discussed issues regarding security, because the topic is relevant for the Belarusian leader. The presidents also agreed to keep the gas price for Belarus in 2022 at the level of 2021 and agreed on the amount of credit support in connection with the tax maneuver in Russia.

Such intensive dialogue between the two leaders is primarily associated with the geopolitical situation that is developing around Belarus, Denisov believes. Western pressure on Minsk intensified after the presidential elections last year and more controversy followed due to the emergency landing of a Ryanair plane.

Lithuania accused Minsk of a "hybrid attack" due to the influx of Middle Eastern migrants. Vilnius announced the construction of a wall on the border with the republic, which should stop the inflow of refugees.

"We have heard a statement from European partners regarding the introduction of new sanctions against the republic, and now regarding the problem of migrants (from Africa and the Middle East, they enter the EU through Belarus - Izvestia). Of course, it is necessary to respond symmetrically, and [it is] better to respond asymmetrically, so in this regard, consultations between Belarus and the Russian Federation are a rather organic process," Denisov said.


Kommersant: Afghan security forces strike back at Taliban

Afghanistan’s security forces have announced the elimination of two high-ranking Taliban security officials, and also recaptured an area in the Badakhshan province bordering Tajikistan from the militants. The first military successes of the Afghan security forces during the current offensive by the Taliban are shifting the confrontation to a new phase, Kommersant writes. The situation on the battlefield shows that the Taliban won’t triumph any time soon. The parties to the conflict engage in a protracted struggle for strategic facilities and communications, as well as for external support, which both Kabul and the Taliban are pursuing.

"Just a week ago, many experts predicted a quick victory for the Taliban and the fall of the current Afghan government. Today, the situation is changing and does not look so clear. The war in Afghanistan is far from over, and no immediate success is foreseen for anyone," Director of the analytical center at the Russian Society of Political Scientists Andrey Serenko explained to Kommersant.

The expert also highlighted the fact that the militants are still unable to capture at least one of the 36 provincial centers, let alone Kabul. "The Taliban do control a large part of the territory, but all the major cities, home to the majority of the country's population, are under the control of the government," he said.

The Afghan security forces and the government are preparing for a long struggle, and external players that are ready to support the authorities in Kabul include not only Western countries, but also India, as well as the republics of Central Asia, the expert noted. "All this suggests a forthcoming ‘long war’ in Afghanistan, which would not end with the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, but on the contrary would only gain momentum," Serenko added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia loses leading position in oil output to United States

In August, US shale oil production will exceed 7.9 mln barrels per day (bpd), having increased by 42,000 bpd in July, according to a report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy. In general, US production will amount to 11.5 mln bpd, experts forecast. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this will keep America in first place in world oil production, which Russia has lost since the beginning of the OPEC+ deal. For Russia, whose budget depends on oil revenues, this loss of market share is critical, analysts believe.

According to industry gurus interviewed by the newspaper, the top three leaders will remain unchanged: Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. "[The question of] who will take first place will depend on the level of production in the second half of the year. In my opinion, Russia and the United States will fight for first place," BCS World of Investments expert Igor Galaktionov said.

For countries with a large share of the oil sector in the structure of the economy, like in Russia or especially in Saudi Arabia, the loss of a part of the sales market is extremely sensitive, Forex Optimum’s Senior Analyst Alexander Rozmanbelieves.

At the same time, the current failure of the negotiations over the OPEC+ deal is unprofitable for everyone, according to Finam’s Anna Zaitseva. "If the alliance members fail to agree on quotas for August and beyond, the risk of an uncontrolled increase in production in OPEC+ countries and a sharp decline in prices does exist," she cautioned. If all participants maintain production at July’s level, then further growth in oil prices can be expected, since the current level of supply will not meet demand, the expert added.


Izvestia: WHO advises against COVID-19 revaccination and mixing vaccines

The World Health Organization (WHO) urged not to mix vaccines of different types and, for now, abandon the idea of revaccination. The effectiveness and safety of this, according to WHO representatives, has not been sufficiently studied. In addition, rich countries should think about poor nations that cannot even provide primary vaccinations for healthcare workers. Experts told Kommersant, the Russian practice of revaccination could be an indirect reason for the WHO to raise the topic of a "third injection".

A full immunization course with drugs approved by the WHO would be enough to protect against COVID-19, and the Delta variant of the coronavirus infection is weathered mildly by those inoculated, the organization said. So far, according to WHO recommendations, the AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer/BionTech, Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Johnson & Johnson jabs meet the necessary safety and efficacy standards.

In addition, the WHO warned that the trend of mixing vaccines from different manufacturers in revaccination is dangerous. The organization emphasized that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of this practice.

Meanwhile, the issue of revaccination is being seriously debated in Israel and Russia. The need for revaccination six months after primary immunization is stated in the recommendations of the Russian Ministry of Health. Its press service explained to Kommersant that the official position of the department is laid out in its temporary recommendations.

Molecular biologist Irina Yakutenko believes that the Russian practice of revaccination, as described by the Ministry of Health in its guidelines, could become an indirect reason to raise the topic of a "third injection".

Director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Medical Research of the European University at St. Petersburg Anton Barchuk noted that there is no reliable data on whether mass revaccination is needed, when it is needed, and what antibody titer is considered high. According to him, revaccination is safe, but "the question is in its effectiveness."


Vedomosti: Russian ruble not rising following higher oil prices

Oil prices show steady growth for the month since June 13 - from $72 to $78 per barrel. At the same time, the value of the ruble for the same period stagnated - fluctuating between 72 and 74 rubles against the dollar, the Moscow Exchange stated. According to Vedomosti, this situation has developed for several reasons. A higher-than-expected inflation acceleration is holding the national currency back, and the spread of the new coronavirus strain is worsening any prospects for further economic growth.

Another important factor in the stagnation of the exchange rate is the lack of consensus on the OPEC + deal, Associate Professor of the Department of Economic Theory at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Alexander Krasilnikov believes. There is a chance that the agreement will actually collapse. The exchange rate generally includes the risk of a number of countries leaving the deal, he added. In this case, the price of Brent crude oil could fall to $55-60 per barrel, Managing Director of NRA rating service Sergey Grishunin suggested, which further aggravates the atmosphere with theRussian currency.

In addition, investors are cautious because of the potential tightening of monetary policy by the US Federal Reserve, Sovcombank Chief Analyst Mikhail Vasilyev added. These factors led to the strengthening of the dollar in the world market and put pressure on the currencies of developing countries, he explained.

The expected radical measures by the Bank of Russia to tighten monetary policy amid a surge in inflation - a likely increase in the key rate on July 23 by 50-75 basis points - will additionally benefit the ruble exchange rate in the summer, Director of Investment Department at Renaissance Credit Bank Viktor Kasyanov said. He expects to see the rate at 72 rubles per dollar by the end of August.

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