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Press review: Serbia strikes gas deal with Russia and Kuzbass tragedy to sting coal sector

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, November 26th

Kommersant: Low gas price for Serbia to remain for six months

Serbia whose contract on deliveries of Russian gas expires by the end of 2021 has managed to retain the price of gas at $270 per 1,000 cubic meters for another six months which is at least 66% cheaper than current market prices in Europe. This is not a new contract, but a temporary measure until a new long-term agreement is concluded also under "exclusive conditions" as Serbia hopes.

Gazprom stayed tight-lipped on the details of the long-term deal with Serbia but noted that the current gas price for the Balkan country correlates with the average export price in Europe in 2021. However, later the gas giant increased its latest estimates to $295-$330 per 1,000 cubic meters. The newspaper’s market source notes that for political reasons, Serbia can continue to receive gas for prices far below market ones for a long time. Such a low price for Serbia is mainly explained by the structure of its contract. The price is 100% tied to oil prices and the last nine months serve as a basis to determine it.

Meanwhile, for the long term, Serbia plans to move away from Gazprom’s monopoly and diversify its gas deliveries. As Serbian Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic said on November 25, the country intends to do so before 2050. She noted that it is necessary to conclude deals on importing gas from Azerbaijan, Greece and Israel during this time. Before the end of the month, the ministry expects to begin construction of a pipeline to Bulgaria which would allow Serbia to access Greece’s gas infrastructure.

According to Dmitry Marinchenko of Fitch, the price of Russian gas for some customers depends on whether the country is perceived as a friendly one by Moscow. "This is why, for example, in October, Moldova paid for gas several times more than Serbia," he explained.


Kommersant: Coalmining industry fears tightened regulations following tragic accident

The tragedy at the Listvyazhnaya coalmine is threating the financial situation of the entire SDS-Ugol holding. The coalmine accounted for about 18% of the holding’s production and revenues, while last year, the company needed state support to refinance its debts. Kommersant’s sources also see risks for the entire coalmining industry due to possible tightened inspections and regulations.

Partner at Rustam Kurmaev and Partners Dmitry Gorbunov says that a commission of the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia will make a decision on whether the mine’s operations should be suspended and for how long. He thinks that in any case, the mine will freeze operations until the cause of the accident is established. If the commission decides that violations were of a systematic nature, this may lead to a suspension of the coalmining license, the lawyer thinks.

Additionally, the accident may impact the operation of other coalmining companies. Governor Sergei Tsivilev of the Kemerovo Region has already instructed to check all mines in the region for explosion safety. A Kommersant source close to one of the region’s coalmining companies expects strict inspections not only at coalmines but also at processing plants and auxiliary units. The source worried that public opinion may be shaped by the fact that coalmining companies chased higher revenues and increased production at the expense of safety which may lead to tighter legislations in this sphere.

Sergei Grishunin, managing director of the NRA's rating service, says that it is too early to make forecasts about resuming production at the Listvyazhnaya coalmine, yet one can expect that the accident will affect the production for the next year.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Calais migrant tragedy unites France and UK

A vessel sank not far from the French port of Calais claiming the lives of 27 illegal migrants who sought to get into the UK. Only two survived the calamity, an Iraqi and a Somali. This was the largest accident of this kind in the Channel since 2014, but it may be repeated since the migration flow to the UK is not letting up. Despite having numerous mutual complaints on issues such as illegal migration and fishing rights, London and Paris, in this situation decided not to blame each other and decided to deal with the problem together and more substantially.

Both British PM Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to do everything to stop the activity of those profiteering from human trafficking. The French side has already started acting on this promise, taking several people into custody who were allegedly involved in organizing the deadly journey.

"The UK has more migrant-friendly legislation and there are more opportunities to settle comfortably there or in Germany than in France. That’s why they sail there. Yet France also has about 400,000 illegal migrants and I suspect that law enforcement agencies have enough problems already and simply do not want to spend their energy on controlling the long coastline," leading expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Sergei Fedorov said. The expert told the newspaper that the attempts to curb the illegal migration from France to the UK had been underway for a while with limited success. "Previously, the illegal migrants attempted to get in by train or trucks. Now they are sailing across the Channel in record numbers. It will be best to resolve the problem within the EU framework but it seems unlikely if one recalls how difficult Brexit was for the UK," the expert thinks.


Izvestia: NATO ramps up air reconnaissance in the Baltics

NATO air reconnaissance has shifted its priorities from the Black Sea to the Baltics. Since November 22, the number of their flights near the Kaliningrad Region and Belarus has sharply increased. This sort of activity wasn’t observed even during the Zapad (West) 2021 strategic drills in that region in September. Additionally, for the first time, reconnaissance is being actively conducted not from the Baltic Sea but from the airspace of Poland and the Baltic states.

In response, Russian and Belarusian fighter jets began joint patrols over the Baltic waters. On November 25, the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced a decision to increase the staff of air defense forces on duty and patrol the state border with Russian and Belarusian aviation.

"NATO has been trying for a while to keep the Kaliningrad Region in a state of constant military tension," former Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze told Izvestia. "Proceeding from the premise that this is an exclave, they constantly let us know that in the event of military action, it would be threatened the most. These actions are coordinated. When the Ukrainian military activated in October, the bloc began to step up activity in the Black Sea and not only militarily, there was also political blackmail, statements on Russia’s alleged aggressive intentions. Then they shifted the tension to the Polish-Belarusian border, groundlessly asserting that somebody is threatening NATO countries from Belarus," the former high-ranking diplomat explained.

He thinks that these actions will continue, not only in the Baltics but also in the North and in the Pacific. One has to keep this in mind and be ready to resist, the expert warned.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Teens to be inoculated against coronavirus in December

Russia will launch an inoculation drive against COVID-19 for teenagers. The Russian Health Ministry has certified the first Russian vaccine for minors against coronavirus, Gam-COVID-Vac M (Sputnik M). This vaccine, essentially, repeats the well-known Sputnik V which has already been used to inoculate over 100 mln people in 70 countries. It has the same composition but a weaker dosage since children’s immune system reacts more actively to the jab, so a five-fold decrease in dosage is normal. The trials of the vaccine with the participation of teenagers that have been underway in Moscow since the summer demonstrated that it works well. The jab’s effectiveness amounted to 93.2%.

"Compared to the beginning of the pandemic, children under five began to get sick approximately twice as often, children over five, particularly teenagers, began to get sick approximately three times more often," Chief Non-Resident Pediatric Specialist in Preventive Medicine of the Russian Health Ministry Leila Namazova-Baranova said, stressing that it’s better to prevent the disease then to deal with its consequences.

"Children over 12 have a higher risk of getting sick. That is why, since May 2021, first in the US, and then in other countries, vaccination of teenagers began. By now, almost 20 mln children worldwide have received vaccines from COVID," Scientific Editor at Mikhail Kagan said. He added that vaccination is voluntary and children under 15 will need a permission of their parents or guardians. "Inoculation will be offered to all children starting at the age of 12 because COVID-19 can cause a serious disease in them," the expert said.

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