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Press review: OPEC+ mulls Omicron-adjusted strategy and NATO to talk Moscow standoff cost

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, November 30th

Vedomosti: OPEC+ mulls adjusting oil strategy

A meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) of OPEC+ will be held later than planned, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on November 29. "We will additionally discuss with OPEC+ countries the market situation and the necessity of measures. In order to work out everything in detail, the JMMC was postponed so as to receive more information on the current events, including the new strain of the virus," he explained.

The new Omicron coronavirus strain which spreads faster and is more contagious, was identified for the first time in South Africa. On November 26, a closed WHO meeting was held where the threat of its spread was discussed. The energy commodities market reacted with falling prices.

According to Alfa Bank Senior Analyst Nikita Blokhin, during the next two weeks oil prices will remain volatile. "Neither the WHO, nor the international community currently have a serious understanding of the danger of the new coronavirus strain. It is also unclear what decision will be made at the OPEC+ meeting," he told Vedomosti. The expert rated the potential of rising prices as "rather low," explaining that the prices will also be influenced by the planned release of the strategic reserves of the US and other countries. According to the expert, the most likely decision is preserving or slowing down the current production rates, yet he excludes the possibility of a decrease in production.

According to Dmitry Marinchenko of Fitch, the falling quotes observed on Friday were for the most part caused by the news of the Omicron strain. In his opinion, the oil market reacted mainly to the risk of new lockdowns. Mikhail Burmistrov, General Director of Infoline-Analytics, concurs, saying that "gas and oil quotations were falling precisely against the background of the news of a possible introduction of new restrictions of the population’s mobility." According to him, next year the situation with the cases in Europe won’t significantly improve despite increased vaccination rates. Sergey Grishunin, managing director of the NRA's rating service, noted that the emergence of the Omicron strain now affects the oil market more than the gas one. According to him, the serious drop was also of a speculative nature on the part of traders.


Kommersant: What dangers does the Omicron strain pose

Russia’s Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing insists that the Omicron coronavirus strain, "a Variant of Concern" according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is not yet present in Russia. However, experts are certain that it is due to arrive in the near future. It seems that this strain emerged independently from the dominating Delta strain and managed to displace it in some South African regions. It is unknown whether it is more contagious than the previous strain and how it will affect the effectiveness of vaccines.

According to Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist and professor at Rutgers University and Skoltech, it is clear that the new strain has more mutations than the initial strain detected in Wuhan. "Considering that this strain has a large number of changes, and, besides, no transitional variants that have a partial set of mutations found in Omicron were detected, most likely, it was formed inside one person as a result of long COVID. That is, for a long time, while a person was infected, new viruses were multiplying in him, acquiring more and more mutations. Most likely, that person had a disrupted immune system. In the end, the virus, containing numerous mutations, got outside and began infecting other people," the expert explained.

Assistant Professor at the Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University’s Department of Children's Infectious Diseases Ivan Konovalov pointed out that the WHO’s preliminary data indicated that the new strain carried a possibility of a reinfection with the coronavirus. Director of the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology Alexander Gintsburg was going to test the effectiveness of Sputnik V against the new strain, pointing out that a new variant of the vaccine would be needed only if the effectiveness decreases eight- to ten-fold.

According to Severinov, precautionary measures, particularly, the closing of borders with some African countries, are justified despite limited information on the new strain. The expert thinks that they won’t stop the global spread of the strain yet they will give national healthcare systems time to prepare. "Every person should think about vaccination or a booster shot because if this variant of the virus is indeed problematic, by the time it is significantly spread in the Russian Federation, an inoculated person will already have immunity. About two weeks are needed after the shot for the immunity to develop," the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Lukashenko seriously bracing for war

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko yet again asserted that enemies are all around and made a number of sensational statements. In his opinion, the enemies of Russia and Belarus are getting ready for an armed conflict and organized the migrant crisis in order to distract the Belarusian military. He stated that he was ready to fight against Ukraine on the side of Russia in Donbass if "they attack again."

Experts, commenting on Lukashenko’s statements, note that their main goal is to mobilize his supporters and keep them on their toes. "The migration standoff was lost but the need for escalation did not go anywhere. So, the next stage is blackmailing with a real war," political scientist Igor Ilyash says. He notes that not only does Belarus openly reject the neutrality declared earlier but also practically says that it is ready to attack. "Essentially, it was publicly stated that in case of a major war between Russia and Ukraine, Belarus will side with Moscow. And since everybody understands perfectly well that Ukraine obviously cannot attack Russia, let’s translate this message more precisely: if need be, Belarus is ready to support a new stage of Russian aggression against Ukraine," he wrote on his account in a social network. The expert is not sure, however, that these statements are backed by a real desire for military action. "On one hand, the regime is blackmailing the West, on the other - with such devoted speeches it is trying to attain Putin’s favor," he explained.

"I have an impression that Lukashenko is experimenting on Belarusians. ‘Let’s organize a migrant crisis, let’s fight Ukraine if a war breaks out in Donbass. How will you react? What can you do to me?’" political scientist Valery Karbalevich told the newspaper. "By the end of [his] political life the person stopped playing populism, stopped thinking about being attractive to the population and remains his old self," the expert thinks. He noted that this initiative is not likely to be appealing even to Lukashenko’s supporters. At the same time, the expert does not exclude that everything that Lukashenko said may actually happen.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO hashes over cost of standoff with Moscow

Russia and its alleged military activity near Ukrainian borders will become the main subject of a meeting between the foreign ministers of NATO member-nations that will be held in Riga on November 30 - December 1. However, to the disappointment of Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine, the alliance is unlikely to beef up its presence in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the financial component will be a substantial result of the meeting since NATO’s updated strategic concept provides for increased defense spending.

The meeting is held against the background of two situations that seriously concern the Baltic countries - the migrant crisis on the border of Belarus with Lithuania and Poland and the concentration of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. This is why Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba was invited to the meeting in Riga which will also be attended by a delegation from Georgia’s Foreign Ministry.

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg clearly defined the tonality of the meeting, noting that it was important to demonstrate the ability to cooperate. He asserted that Russia should stop its "military escalation" on the Ukrainian border, yet practically rejected the Polish proposal to include Ukraine in NATO’s guarantees, noting that it is not part of the alliance. At the same time, he promised political and practical support.

Associate Professor at the MGIMO Department of Integration Processes Alexander Tevdoi-Burmuli explained: "Trump simply abandoned Europe and it was left facing its large ‘Eastern neighbor’ alone. Yet, overall precisely 2014 became crucial. Since then, new schemes of financing projects cropped up. Defense spending is rising gradually but not everywhere. For example, Lithuania and Poland are not against boosting military spending as opposed to Belgium. Overall, the backbone of European military prowess is formed by France, Germany and Italy." The expert added that the Europeans won’t sharply increase their presence in Ukraine simply because Washington is the main guarantor of Kiev’s security. "The EU may participate in some separate activities, yet one shouldn’t expect large-scale joint efforts in the sphere of conventional arms," the expert thinks.


Kommersant: AI to be used to ferret out protest moods

State corporation Rostec is developing a special software which will help federal and regional authorities forecast mass disturbances as well as prevent them from escalating. In order to do so, the system will analyze media reports, data from social media, surveillance cameras and other sources. With disturbances in progress, artificial intelligence (AI) will analyze crowd behavior and recommend measures to law enforcement.

Expert opinions on the project’s prospects differ. President of the Russoft Association Valentin Makarov thinks that existing digital platforms have already hammered out an entire set of the necessary solutions to analyze texts and the emotional state and behavioral patterns of groups of people united by a common idea. "They have already sufficiently studied the behavioral premises of the population and can effectively use their solutions to promote commercial interests." In order to implement the project, in his opinion, it is necessary "to slightly change the targeting assignment and teach AI to derive the necessary information from the knowledge base being accumulated."

Sergey Matusevich, director of web technology development at Artezio, thinks that currently there are no similar ready technologies worldwide that can be easily transferred to Russia. "For AI to provide a multifactor multivariant analysis of probabilities using data from surveillance cameras, posts on social networks and websites, it is necessary to perform major work on training it," the expert said.

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