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Press review: OPEC+ members agree to boost output and Taliban, Kabul hold talks in Doha

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, July 19th

Media: OPEC+ countries agree to boost oil output

OPEC+ countries will increase oil production by 400,000 barrels per day each month starting in August 2021, Vedomosti writes.

In particular, production quotas will be increased for five of the OPEC+ countries (Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq) starting in May 2022. Based on these agreements, by October 2022, OPEC+ nations will reach the production level that had been in effect when the oil output cut deal came into force in October 2018. However, OPEC+ will continue to coordinate oil production and may introduce new restrictions. These decisions were made amid a strengthening oil market and increasing oil demand.

A coordinated move to boost production is the most reasonable decision that will make it possible to prevent the market from overheating as demand is gradually reviving, Fitch Ratings Senior Director Dmitry Marinchenko pointed out. The agreements that have been reached can be viewed as a positive signal to ease tensions on the oil market, he added.

Rising production in OPEC+ countries in the second half of 2021 may end the existing oil shortage and stabilize prices at $60-70 per barrel, the analyst went on to say. According to him, this is the level that suits "nearly all producers."

The question is how much time will it take Russian oil companies to increase output, Kommersant writes, citing Vygon Consulting’s Darya Kozlova. The expert says that their capacity for additional oil production is limited because of tough tax regulations - which make them give up 60% of their revenues - the changes in drilling programs in Western Siberia stemming from the OPEC+ output cut deal, and the fact that a number of tax incentives were revised in 2020.


Vedomosti: Afghan government, Taliban pursue ceasefire at Doha talks

Negotiations between the Afghan government and members of the radical Taliban movement (outlawed in Russia) kicked off in Qatar’s capital of Doha on July 17. According to the Afghan media, prisoner swaps, a ceasefire and the creation of a coalition government are the focus of the talks, Vedomosti writes.

For the Taliban, the negotiations are just a way to buy time and take a breath to regroup and strengthen control over the areas they have already seized, said Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies. They will benefit from three to six months of a ceasefire since they have exhausted their offensive potential, the expert pointed out. This is why the talks on forming a coalition government are nothing but an element of a large-scale operation aimed at achieving political legitimacy.

On the other hand, the Afghan government’s situation is not as miserable as the Taliban describes it to be, Serenko noted. The country’s official authorities maintain control over cities, while the Taliban established a presence in rural areas. The expert believes that the Afghan army has a chance to stand its ground if the United States and other NATO countries continue to support it by providing supplies.

Moreover, Russia, as well as the US, can’t be expected to legitimize the Taliban, Serenko emphasized. According to him, the Taliban’s success is that of a jihadist movement, so no one is interested in it except Pakistan, the Taliban’s main ally.

Moscow is wary of the Taliban, said Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov. Besides, it’s unlikely that the Taliban’s pledges about ensuring stability in the region will be fulfilled, he added. There are other groups active in the region and it will be hard for the Taliban to control those unruly forces, Kalashnikov explained.


Kommersant: Lavrov, Shoigu to stump for United Russia in election campaign race

The increasing number of public appearances by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who rank high on United Russia’s electoral list, will help boost the party’s popularity in the run-up to the State Duma elections scheduled for September, Kommersant writes, citing sources engaged in the organization of the party’s election campaign. According to one of the sources, the ministers will start taking short leaves in late July and early August in order to participate in the campaign.

"The factor of leading personalities on the electoral lists hasn’t fully gotten off the ground yet. The campaign has just kicked off and parties’ links to specific persons haven’t become clear enough, apart from parties with long-time leaders," United Russia’s chief political strategist Konstantin Kostin said. The active phase of the election campaign has been moved to the late summer and early fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is why Lavrov and Shoigu should be expected to actively engage in the party’s campaign in late July and early August, the expert explained.

The newspaper’s source close to United Russia’s leadership says that the top persons on the party’s electoral list will be directly involved in campaign activities. According to the source, Shoigu will be effective in promoting matters related to social welfare, patriotism and criticism of government officials, while Lavrov will be the perfect speaker at meetings with members of the business community.

Meanwhile, other sources stress that the ministers won’t have to personally participate in the election campaign. According to them, given the pandemic situation and their busy schedule, it will be enough for Shoigu and Lavrov to make public statements as part of their job as cabinet members.

Lawyer Anton Rudakov considers this approach to be the right one. "Their role is simple, they need to continue doing their job and handle the current issues by virtue of their offices. This alone will have an impact on the party’s performance," the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Belarusian opposition figurehead won’t let West forget about Lukashenko

Belarusian opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will spend the week in the United States. However, just part of her agenda has been revealed so far, which does not include a meeting with the US president. However, experts don’t rule out such a possibility, saying that it will accelerate the adoption of a new package of US sanctions against the Belarusian authorities, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Political scientist Valery Karbalevich points out that Tikhanovskaya, who has visited all the leading global powers, is focused on keeping the Belarusian issue on top of the global agenda. "Western politicians have many other problems to tackle and if there were no factors that would keep reminding them of what is going on in Belarus, everyone would slowly forget about it," Karbalevich noted. He did not rule out that the US would impose a new package of sanctions on Minsk.

Nevertheless, analysts view the prospects for resolving the Belarusian crisis and the role of sanctions differently. For instance, expert Igor Tyshkevich believes that bargaining on political prisoners may begin towards the end of the year, while Karbalevich is confident that no liberalization is possible as long as Alexander Lukashenko remains in power.

The expert speculated that a transition of power would take place in Belarus in the next two years and Lukashenko would step down as president. This is the conclusion that Karbalevich came to after reading the draft of the constitution that the Belarusian authorities intend to adopt through a referendum set for the beginning of next year. "I thought that Lukashenko will secure some post for himself, namely that of the chairman of the presidium of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, shifting important powers to that office, but its powers are unclear in the draft. The real power - though not as much as today - will lie with the president and parliament. It means that a transition of power can be expected," the expert noted.

According to Karbalevich, such a development is simultaneously the result of last year’s large-scale protests, world public opinion, sanctions and Russia’s influence, as all these events are not the best option for Moscow.


Izvestia: Vaccination of 80% of population to establish herd immunity for Delta coronavirus variant

Herd immunity for the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant will be possible once 80% of the Russian population is vaccinated, head of Novosibirsk State University’s Laboratory of Bionanotechnology, Microbiology and Virology Sergei Netesov said in an interview with Izvestia.

"In order to achieve herd immunity for the Delta variant, 80% of the population needs to get vaccinated. So far, a little over 20% of people in Russia have got their first vaccine shot. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, 53% of the population have already received both vaccine doses," he pointed out.

Netesov noted that assessments of foreign vaccines’ capability to protect against the Delta strain had already been published. "Those medications are also based on the Wuhan variant, just like our Sputnik V vaccine. Their effectiveness against the Delta variant is only 5-10% lower, so the vaccines still work. This is why there is no doubt that people need to get vaccinated and do it as soon as possible. The rate of vaccination is vital. If it remains at the current level and the process is prolonged for two to three years, the virus will continue to evolve, leaving our vaccine behind," the expert explained.

According to him, there is also a need to introduce testing to detect antibodies for various proteins of the virus and prioritize the vaccination of those who have no antibodies at all. "This is the way to boost herd immunity and save vaccines. In particular, it would be enough for some people to get the single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine instead of a two-dose one," Netesov added.

In addition, the expert believes that in order to make the vaccination campaign more effective, the population’s access to information on vaccines should be improved.

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