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Press review: Russian Olympic chief upbeat on Tokyo Games and COVID’s origins fuel debate

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, July 20th
Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS
Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov
© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

Vedomosti: Government moves to transform relations with Russian regions

The Russian government is transforming its system of relations with the country’s regions. In accordance with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s order, eight of his deputies will now be responsible for Russia’s federal districts, Kommersant notes.

The deputy prime ministers will supervise the social development of the federal districts, ensure that budget funds are effectively spent and oversee consistency between spending and people’s needs. The government’s commission on regional development will carry on operating.

The new chain of command for the country’s regions won’t create any discord, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Federal Structure and Local Governance Alexei Didenko pointed out. "The presidential envoys [to federal districts] mostly focus on analytical and monitoring activities, while the goals of government agencies are first and foremost related to the socio-economic development of the country’s regions," Didenko explained. At the same time, the deputy prime ministers will hold personal responsibility for specific areas, which will make it possible for them to delve deeper into regional features and better understand them, he added.

The presidential envoys and the deputy prime ministers need to learn to get along with each other particularly because the National Projects are viewed through the lens of their implementation by the regional and local authorities, Associate Professor at the Financial University’s Department of Political Science Alexander Nemtsev emphasized. He noted that the offices of the presidential envoys largely control efforts to implement the projects together with law enforcement agencies. Now, the regions will gain direct access to the deputy prime ministers, and not all governors currently have an opportunity to reach out to them, the expert said.

Interaction between the presidential envoys and the deputy prime ministers will depend on their personalities, Center for Political Technologies President Boris Makarenko stressed. According to him, the new system is being introduced in order to improve management, "so that the federal government’s orders can reach the regions faster and the government can have more up-to-date information on what is really going on in the regions."


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Germany’s floods may affect Bundestag election

The recent floods that battered Germany, killing dozens of people and leaving hundreds injured or missing, may have an impact on the balance of power ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election. Experts believe that the disaster will play into the hands of the ruling bloc of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and perhaps, the greens, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Political Science Professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen Achim Goerres points out that the Christian Democratic Union’s candidate for chancellor Armin Laschet heads the government of the North Rhine-Westphalia state badly hit by the flooding. His government - together with the federal cabinet - is providing support to those affected by the disaster. When talking to reporters, the expert emphasized that the 2002 victory of the ruling Social Democratic Party headed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which followed flooding on the River Elbe, made it clear how important this kind of emergency support is. As for the greens, they can benefit from their climate change agenda. Goerres is confident that the recent extreme weather events are another reminder of these problems.

However, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky believes that the impact the floods will have on the election’s results should not be overestimated. According to him, political parties are unlikely to seek to capitalize on the matter during the election campaign. The expert explained that it’s not part of German culture "to openly take advantage of the mistakes and failures of one’s rivals in order to score political points."

"One way or another, the need to effectively respond [to disasters] will make it into the parties’ programs and the greens will try to depict the recent developments as a result of global climate change," Ofitserov-Belsky emphasized.


Kommersant: Russian Olympic Committee president upbeat on Tokyo Games

The Tokyo Summer Olympics, postponed from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will kick off on Friday. Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in an interview with Kommersant that Russia may enter the top three for medals earned at the Games.

When speaking about Team Russia’s prospects for medals, Pozdnyankov pointed out that "our estimates are usually based on the results that candidates for the Olympic team show at the two world championships that precede the Games." In his view, as far as athletes capable of winning Olympic medals are concerned, Russia comes third after the United States and China. "If at least half of these athletes score medals at the Olympics, we will get 50 to 60 awards," the Russian Olympic Committee president said. According to his estimates, that number "may allow us to enter the top three in the unofficial medal standings."

When speaking about specific sports where Russia was progressing, Pozdnyakov highlighted swimming, saying that the country’s athletes "have significantly improved their positions." "We maintained our positions in sports where plenty of medals are up for grabs, such as fencing, wrestling and gymnastics. For several Olympic cycles, we have remained the leaders in rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming," he noted. "As for others, we expect certain athletes to hit the jackpot. This goes for athletics, where our small team boasts inspiring leaders, as well as for some other sports," the Russian Olympic Committee president added.

When asked how many more athletes would the Russian delegation have included, had it not been for the sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the need to perform as neutrals, Pozdnyakov stressed that the number would have still been the same, 335. "The main result of the WADA vs RUSADA [the Russian Anti-Doping Agency] case, which involved the Russian Olympic Committee as a third party, is that we ensured the full participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Games," he emphasized.


Vedomosti: Mir payment system takes one more step on the road to perfection

The holders of Mir credit cards, serviced by Russia’s National Payment Card System (NSPK), will be able to activate Apple Pay starting on July 20, Vedomosti writes, citing the payment system’s representatives and Vice President of Apple Pay Jennifer Bailey.

The Mir payment system, created in 2014, is operated by the NSPK (controlled by the Russian Central Bank) and services about 100 mln cards. Apple Pay became available in Russia in 2016 and in 2017, the country came in first in Europe for the number of banks supporting the payment service. In late 2020, Russia was second in the world in terms of Apple Pay users after the United States. Russian users love Apple Pay, which became even more popular during the coronavirus pandemic based on safety concerns, Bailey pointed out.

One of the reasons why contactless payment is so popular in Russia may be that traditional credit cards were introduced in the country later than in the West, CIS Telecom Leader at Deloitte CIS Anton Shulga noted. "As a result, users were not used to paying with cards and retailers did not have a fleet of outdated terminals that would have been expensive to replace with new ones that support contactless payments," he explained.

Chairman of the Board of the National Payment Council Alma Obayeva, in turn, pointed out that it was the government’s active support that made the Mir project a success. "The impossibility of adding Mir cards to Apple Pay was one of the system’s few remaining drawbacks," the expert said.

According to Mobile Research Group Leading Analyst Eldar Murtazin, users will welcome the opportunity to link their Mir cards to Apple Pay. "The audience of Mir card users is expanding and naturally, it’s more convenient for iPhone owners to pay with their device," he said.


Izvestia: US puts artificial origins of coronavirus into question

In late May, US President Joe Biden handed down instructions to carry out an investigation to figure out the origins of SARS-CoV-2. And now, the first - informal, at the moment - conclusions have been made public. Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the natural origins theory of the coronavirus was still the most likely, Izvestia writes.

There are two popular theories as far as the origins of COVID-19 are concerned, which say that the virus originated either in nature or from a laboratory. Both theories are equally likely but it’s hard to fully prove either of them. Many experts strongly criticized the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. Nevertheless, US intelligence agencies are looking into both theories.

Russian researchers believe that the existing data does not make it possible to decide which of the two theories is the most likely because all evidence is indirect.

According to Doctor of Biology Alexei Agranovsky, the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s materials could give impetus to the investigation into the origins of the virus but so far, none of the documents have been made available to experts. Agranovsky believes that the argument that SARS-CoV-2 has elements not common for related coronaviruses isn’t strong enough because this can be explained by viruses’ ability to change as they move from one carrier to another.

Infectious disease doctor Nikolai Malyshev said earlier that COVID-19 might as well have emerged naturally. According to him, with its warm and humid climate, Southeast Asia is a place where various changes are possible in the RNA and DNA of viruses, which creates new pathogens.

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