Press review: Minsk steps up repressions and Macron accused of trying to reconquer Lebanon

Media: Belarus steps up repressions as mass protests continue

Protests after the presidential election in Belarus have been ongoing for the fourth day, but the authorities have not voiced plans to enter dialogue with the rioters. On the contrary, violence has been on the rise. The security forces continue arrests, which trigger new protests.

“The strikes have not yet entered a massive scale, the protesters neither have a leader nor a clear plan. That’s why obviously, Lukashenko will retain power because he has the power resource and the elites are not split,” Alexei Makarkin, First Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Meanwhile, the image of Belarus in the public mind has changed. “Now the entire world sees its president, who is retaining power by force, and riot police, who are harshly beating the protesters.” In the future, Lukashenko will face problems with the current presidential term and in the long-term prospect, it will be hard for him to keep power. “It is possible that the elites will be split and discontent will grow in the Belarusian society, and Lukashenko’s image as a ‘father’ is changing to that of a dictator.”

The European Union has already reacted to harsh actions of the Belarusian authorities. All 27 EU member-states have described the August 9 presidential election as neither free nor fair. A diplomatic source in Brussels told Kommersant that Belarus could face sanctions. “For the first time in his career, Lukashenko has lost the election. His rule is not going to be the same,” the source told the paper. Political observer and journalist of Belsat channel Igor Ilyash noted that the prospect of improving the relations between Belarus and the West was now a thing of the past, and this issue would not be raised while Lukashenko is still in power. “There won’t be a rapprochement now. Blood was shed on the streets of Minsk and the fact that this was done defiantly and in a frightening way shows that there is no going back,” the expert said.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko’s victory is turning Russia into a hostage of its unpredictable neighbor and the Union State remains the tool of exerting Moscow’s influence on Minsk, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Obviously, uncertainty in Russian-Belarusian relations is expected to last. The situation is reminiscent of the Russian-Ukrainian ties before the 2014 Maidan protests, the newspaper notes.

Izvestia: ‘Bonaparte Macron’ accused of trying to reconquer Lebanon

French President ’s plans to provide assistance to Lebanon hit by the deadly blast at Beirut’s port have been denounced as a neocolonialist attempt to restore sway over a troubled Middle Eastern land, Izvestia writes, adding that the French leader, who came to Beirut last week and visited the tragedy scene, was dubbed Bonaparte by the media. While promising assistance, Macron emphasized that it should be provided on condition of transparency and must not end up in the hands of corrupt officials, and demanded political and economic reforms.

Given the challenging situation in Lebanon, where damages from the explosions at Beirut’s port on August 4 exceeded $15 bln, many viewed this symbolic visit of Macron’s more than just a gesture of solidarity and support, Izvestia writes. Others criticized Macron for going to Lebanon while France is facing its own problems such as the coronavirus spread and wildfires in the south. Amid this criticism, Macron was forced to convince everyone that he had no plans on restoring the French mandate in Lebanon. He explained the move by “friendship and support” rather than the desire to meddle in the country’s affairs.

Meanwhile, Moscow warns about dangerous influence of external factors on the developments in Lebanon. “There should not be any attempts to substitute the goals of reforms by the demands [first of all the US] concerning Hezbollah and limiting its role and so on,” Russia’s Ambassador to Beirut Alexander Zasypkin told Izvestia. “This is actually interference in domestic affairs.” The blast at the port increased tensions in the country and Moscow is calling on all sides to prevent deterioration, the diplomat said.

There is not much hope that Lebanon will be able to overcome the current situation alone, and there are many regional powers seeking to help the country. “Politics in Lebanon has discredited itself,” expert of the Russian International Affairs Council Grigory Lukyanov noted. “The system is very closed in the country and does not imply any rotation. This has been so for nearly 100 years. In fact, Lebanon has been living by the same rules which led it to a civil war in the 1970s.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Biden to keep lead over Trump with surprise VP pick

, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has picked Senator Kamala Harris of California as his vice-presidential running mate. According to experts this was a good choice signaling that the Democrats are pursuing the goal of keeping their supporters rather than attracting swing voters and Donald Trump’s backers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Biden, who is 77, “may not be able to serve the entire five-year-presidential term given his age,” the paper adds, “so, by supporting him at the election, Americans obviously understand that they are choosing Harris, 55”.

According to Chief Researcher at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev, Biden’s decision came after a spat among leaders in the Democratic Party. Barack Obama wanted Biden to pick Susan Rice, who was national security advisor from 2013 to 2017. However, Biden believed that the vice president should not be linked to Obama. “Harris is a newcomer Senator. She was elected in 2016 and is not related to the Obama administration,” the expert noted.

Biden’s choice is very unusual. Harris is a person of color who has an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. By betting on the Californian Senator, Biden has acknowledged the new reality that now the states of the Western coast are the Democrats’ key stronghold. According to Vasilyev, Biden views Harris as a person who won’t attract new voters, but won’t split his current supporters, and their votes could be enough for victory. Opinion polls show that Biden currently has a lead over Trump.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia could let foreign companies develop Arctic shelf

In 2033-2040, the total oil output on Russia’s Arctic and Pacific shelf could reach 313 mln tonnes, and given the preferential taxation, this could rake in up to 657 bln rubles ($8.9 bln), according to the Ministry for Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic. The ministry prepared its economic justification for a bill on developing the continental shelf of the Arctic and the Pacific Ocean. The document stipulates the creation of a state agent, which will develop the shelf in a consortium with companies – both state (like now) and private firms, including foreign ones, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

The ministry stresses that the nearest project could be launched not earlier than in 10 years, and the estimations on its economic effectiveness could be changed. “In the past 23 years, taxation in the field of hydrocarbon production changed 11 times and this shows that it is impossible to forecast taxes in financial models,” the document reads.

The development of Russia’s Arctic shelf was stalled after oil prices plunged in late 2014. Besides, US and EU sanctions ban foreign companies from taking part in producing oil in the Russian Arctic shelf and sharing technologies for these works. However, since then the cost of developing maritime resources significantly declined while other players have emerged on the market, the paper says.

“The long-term oil price could be put at $55-$65 and this price along with tax incentives could draw investments in the Arctic shelf and make these projects attractive for foreign investors,” said Vasily Tanurkov, director of ACRA corporate ratings group.

RBC: Russia’s net debt exceeds $21 bln amid coronavirus pandemic

Russia’s net public debt has expanded amid the coronavirus pandemic, reaching 1.55 trillion rubles ($21 bln) as of July 1, 2020, RBC writes citing the statistics of the Russian Finance Ministry and the Central Bank.

According to the newspaper, the federal government’s debt reached 14.77 trillion rubles ($201 bln) as of July 1, while liquidity reserves totaled 13.22 trillion rubles ($180 bln). The Finance Ministry explained that the key factor behind the shrinking state deposits was the government’s purchase of a controlling stake at Sberbank from the Central Bank in April for 2.14 trln rubles ($29 bln).

In September 2019, RBC wrote citing the data of the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank that the net public debt became negative for the first time after the introduction of sanctions and the falling oil prices in 2014.

The newspaper writes that the recent trend was explained by unbalanced federal budget this year. The Finance Ministry was forced to compensate for the falling oil and gas revenues and increase spending beyond its limits defined by the budget rule. Besides, the debt is growing because of the government’s support measures during the crisis.

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