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Press review: Natural gas hits all-time high and US senators aim to boot Russian diplomats

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, October 7th

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Energy prices in Europe skyrocket to all-time highs

Gas and oil prices in Europe have beaten all historical records. On October 6, the price of natural gas soared to $1,962 per 1,000 cubic meters, then dropping subsequently to $1,300 which is still a five-fold increase over Gazprom’s price per long-term contracts. The coal used to produce electric power is over $260 per tonne. Oil is approaching its peak price surpassing the 2014 levels.

Europe’s energy market is in panic with proposals to freeze prices for energy resources and investigate the reasons for the sudden upsurge. There aren’t that many ways to exit the crisis since there are not enough internal resources to pull through the winter, especially if it turns out to be cold. Exporters are the only hope, but their capabilities are limited by the EU’s own logistics and laws.

With unabated soaring natural gas prices, coal has turned out to be a more attractive raw material for energy production, despite its price already exceeding its quotations in Asia. However, Russia’s Ministry of Energy told the newspaper that so far no one from Europe has approached them with a request to increase the supply of coal. Artem Tuzov from Univer Capital noted that Ukraine could have boosted its supplies to Europe had it normalized the situation in Donbass, which is the main coal-producing region there, while other key coal exporters - Indonesia, the US, South Africa - are unlikely to shift to the European market due to high delivery prices with Europe’s own coal production almost completely suspended, except for Poland, which is not enough to supply EU’s market.

According to Director for Analysis of Financial Markets and Macroeconomics at Alfa Capital Management Vladimir Bragin, several factors impacted Europe’s energy crisis while the most obvious one is the post-pandemic recovery of European economy, which raised demand for the energy overall. The consistent dismantling of the nuclear power industry and the accelerated shift from "dirty" energy resources in 2020 have contributed as well, according to the expert. According to head of the National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov, Europe’s mistake was gambling on "green energy" and market gas trade, while turning down long-term contracts and destroying the coal industry.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia, US bicker over number of diplomats

The intention of some American legislators to sharply reduce the number of Russian diplomats in the US is just a display of emotions, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Earlier, a bipartisan group of US senators requested that Biden undertake immediate measures to boost the number of personnel in the US Embassy in Moscow and expel 300 Russian diplomats, should the Russian Federation reject the increase. According to TASS, the Kremlin official noted that "in order to expel that many diplomats, you need to have that many to begin with, first of all. Secondly, these demands are rather emotional. By all appearances, they don’t even know how many Russian diplomats are working there," adding that Washington has been pursuing a course directed "at the complete curtailing of relations" with Russia for several years.

In response to anti-Russian sanctions announced by Washington in April and yet another expulsion of Russian diplomats, Moscow prohibited US diplomatic missions from hiring Russian and third country citizens. As of August 1, the US Embassy in Russia has been operating with the skeleton staff of 120 employees and has since complained that this has paralyzed the embassy’s operations, while Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly tried to reach a compromise.

The letter to Biden was the initiative of Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez who are among his opponents, with Rubio having criticized Biden over the suspension of the Nord Stream 2-related sanctions, while Menendez criticized the abrupt Afghanistan pullout. Pavel Sharikov of the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences noted that Menendez very seldom sided with Republicans in the past. "It is interesting that this letter is a bipartisan initiative. Rubio’s signature there is understandable, while Menendez’s is a surprise. He is, by the way, a very skillful lobbyist and is known for his ability to get the decisions needed from the White House. Of course, it is hardly likely that in the wake of this letter, Biden will rush to cut the Russian Embassy’s staff. The idea itself of expelling 300 people does not seem sane, to say the least. The issue is, whether the letter’s authors are seriously counting on this and whether it is a part of some multi-step combination," the expert said.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: World Bank improves outlook on Russian economy

The World Bank has seriously improved its own forecast on Russia’s economic growth in 2021, while Russian GDP growth numbers should be a bit below expectations. In its report on Europe and Central Asia, the World Bank expects Russia’s economy to grow from 3.2% to 4.3% because of renewed demand for a number of products and high energy prices. At the same time, the growth in 2022 will amount to 2.8%, as opposed to 3.2% forecasted earlier, while in 2023, the Russian economy will grow by 1.8% instead of the previously expected 2.3%. The World Bank thinks that the growth will be stunted by regular structural restrictions, the stabilization of consumer and raw materials demand as well as by the escalation of geopolitical tensions and increases in the policy rate.

Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade currently thinks that Russia’s GDP this year will undergo a correctional growth by 4.2% (in 2020, the GDP decreased amid the coronavirus crisis by 3.1%, according to the Federal Statistics Service). Its forecast for 2022 and 2023 remains the same: at 3% annual GDP growth. As the agency’s chief Maksim Reshetnikov said earlier, this three-percent growth will ensure domestic consumption by raising incomes, launching the investment cycle and developing export potential.

At the same time, the Bank of Russia may raise its forecast for this year. "The July GDP forecast is 4-4.5% for this year. Current statistics show that the economy is moving along the upper boundary of this forecast and if there is a revision in October, it will be most likely towards an increase," head of the Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Department Kirill Tremasov told the newspaper. At the same time, the Bank of Russia, "with a high degree of probability" is ready to increase its inflation forecast following the results of 2021. Currently, it is at 5.7-6.2% with the annual inflation surpassing 7% as of September.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Rosatom achieves zirconium breakthrough

Russia’s Rosatom state corporation has launched the industrial production of the zirconium sponge needed for nuclear fuel assemblies. This is a fully domestic breakthrough technology which will make it possible to increase the export of nuclear fuel since this material is essential for fuel production in foreign-designed reactors. To date, there have been only four producers of the zirconium sponge worldwide - France, India, China, and the US. Now Rosatom can respond to market’s demand producing nuclear fuel in full compliance with the requirements of foreign clients.

The new production line was opened with the participation of head of Rosatom Alexei Likhachev and President of Rosatom’s subsidiary, TVEL Fuel Company, Natalya Nikipelova. "Mastering zirconium sponge production is a landmark for the development of zirconium production in Rosatom’s fuel division. The creation of Russia’s own technology from scratch and the construction of new production is a major achievement by our scientists and manufacturers, a true feat of labor and an important contribution to boosting our global competitive ability. The zirconium sponge can be widely used in the fuel production for all main energy reactors both of Russian and foreign design," Nikipelova said.

The zirconium sponge is a novel construction material for nuclear fuel production which is already widespread worldwide. Its production involves fewer technological operations, less electric power, raw materials and less volumes of waste than the technologies previously used in Russia while ensuring the high purity of zirconium. The project uses contemporary digital solutions. The safety of the production line is ensured by an automated system. It is expected that the high-purity zirconium sponge will be in demand abroad.


Izvestia: Trials of single vaccine against COVID, flu to begin in late 2022

Russia has created a technological platform for a single vaccine against flu and coronavirus, its clinical trials will be launched at the end of 2022, head of the Gamaleya Center Alexander Gintsburg told Izvestia. In his opinion, those vaccinated will develop memory cells which will support a higher antibody level. An increase in the general level of immunization will allow to revaccinate at larger intervals than every six months, the scientist explained.

The basis for the jab’s technological platform is a hybrid vaccine against rotaviruses, the center is also developing a vaccine against various strains of coronavirus. "The technological platform for this has already been created but the clinical trials haven’t yet been launched. If all goes well with this platform, if precisely this technology works, then we’ll move on to a more complex variant - combining simultaneously antigens of flu’s hemagglutinin and accordingly, the coronavirus’ S-proteins in one vaccine. The beginning of clinical trials is the end of next year," the expert specified.

The necessity to create a single shot against flu and coronavirus is conditioned by the fact that the combination of these two diseases significantly increases the severity of seasonal flu and its lethality, Viktor Zuev, leading researcher at the Gamaleya Research Center told the newspaper. According to him, it is not enough to be immunized only against one or the other because these are two different viruses while an interval of 2-3 weeks should be observed between the shots before a single vaccine is developed.

In addition to the Gamaleya Center, other Russian research centers are developing their own single vaccines against flu and coronavirus. In November 2020, the Vector State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology began trials of its vaccine on animals. On September 17, Russia’s Ministry of Health reported the launch of pre-clinical trials of the compatibility of flu and coronavirus vaccines. On October 4, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko stated that the "first results are encouraging."

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