RDIF’s Dmitriev predicts pandemic end by May, claims Russia’s vaccine is ‘world’s best’

Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), was speaking on Frankly Speaking talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), was speaking on Frankly Speaking talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
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Updated 19 January 2021

RDIF’s Dmitriev predicts pandemic end by May, claims Russia’s vaccine is ‘world’s best’

Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), was speaking on Frankly Speaking talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
  • Head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund praises Saudi handling of coronavirus pandemic and G20
  • Appearing on Arab News talk show Frankly Speaking, said Moscow interested in investing in NEOM’s The Line

DUBAI: Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), was uncompromising. “We have without question the best vaccine in the world,” he told Arab News.

The vaccine, Sputnik V, which has been developed to counter the COVID-19 virus, has been the subject of much skepticism in Western media and by some medical experts, but Dmitriev is having none of that.

He thinks that skepticism — a campaign of “deliberate disinformation” — is the result of jealousy of Western pharma companies mixed with a dose of geopolitical rivalry, and is not justified by the science or the Sputnik V record so far.

 

“If you look at several key parameters such as safety, efficacy, logistics, length of shot, lack of allergies, lack of other significant consequences, Sputnik V is out there as the number one, the best vaccine in the world,” Dmitriev said.

Dmitriev, who is well known in the senior circles of power in Saudi Arabia through the investment and financial work of RDIF, was speaking on Frankly Speaking, the televised interview in which senior policymakers are questioned on their views about the most important issues of the day.

He said Sputnik V was steadily winning over the rest of the world to the benefits of its product, which uses a human adenovirus vector, in contrast to Western techniques.

Recently, Argentina authorized the vaccine and received its first supplies, and just last week Paraguay announced it too was going for the Russian product. Of course, the biggest roll-out has been in Russia itself, where 1.5 million people have taken the Sputnik V shots, including — as Dmitriev pointed out with great satisfaction — the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, who was among the more scathing critics of Sputnik after was launched last summer.

Andrew Kramer, who had been highly critical of the science behind Sputnik V and the Russian government’s development of the first COVID-19 vaccine, finally conceded it was a “bona fide accomplishment for Russian scientists continuing a long and storied practice of vaccine development” — quite a climbdown for a correspondent of a newspaper not known to be charitable towards Russia.

Dmitriev also detects a change of tone among European countries who are now more willing to consider Sputnik V, as they experience problems getting sufficient doses of other vaccines. There have been talks between German and Russian leaders about co-operation on vaccine production, as well as France and other European countries.

Russia is seeking approval from European authorities, and is also in collaboration with Astra Zeneca of the UK on a product that combines vaccine techniques. “There is no question that the skeptics are out of arguments. We have one of the best vaccines and that is accepted by more and more countries every day,” he said.

Dmitriev predicted that the worst of the pandemic would be over by May in countries that had done “very massive, very fast vaccination.”

Although a financier and investment expert by background, Dmitriev has over the past year become something of an expert on medical and public-health issues, so his views on the Saudi reaction to the pandemic are apposite.

 

“I think Saudi Arabia has handled it very well,” he said. “If you look at the total number of cases, and the actions of the Saudi government, of His Majesty, King Salman, and HRH, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, you see a very strong response, a very aggressive response, that allowed Saudi to contain the virus probably much better than many countries.

“I think this is really a testament to your very efficient and very focused system, focused on testing, focused on really treating people early.”

Dmitriev also praised the Kingdom’s management of the G20 summit, held under Saudi presidency in 2020, which tacked crucial issues relating to vaccine development, medical investment and the financial response to the lockdown recession caused by the pandemic.

“This is a very important message as we fight this pandemic. We can defeat it only by working together — Russia and Saudi, Saudi and other leaders of the G20, and other countries — only by partnership can we really finish off this pandemic efficiently,” he said.

 

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia has become ever closer since 2017, when King Salman made the first ever visit to Moscow by a reigning Saudi monarch, as well as several other interchanges involving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

RDIF, and Dmitriev, has been at the core of this developing partnership, which has manifested itself in a raft of business deals, as well as the ongoing alliance in the crucial oil industry via OPEC+, the alliance forged by the Kingdom and Russia that has successfully managed global energy markets through dark hours.

On what is this relationship based? “I think the essence of this relationship is trust, and we have really built this trust working together on a wide variety of issues. We started working on energy issues, on investment issues, on healthcare issues, and by this work we built a really great partnership that led to dramatic positive results for the Saudi people, the Russian people, and the people of the world,” Dmitriev said.

“We've also jointly financed many infrastructure projects that are really helping to create jobs in Russia and Saudi Arabia. I think this cooperation is an example to other nations that they should put aside differences and some of the political misunderstandings, and really focus on joint projects, really focus on economics and achieving a better understanding and better political relationship,” he said.

Dmitriev was awarded one of the Kingdom’s highest honors, the Order of King Abdulaziz, for his role in the Saudi-Russia entente, and he has had the opportunity to study the leadership style of the Kingdom’s policymakers, and in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.




The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia has become ever closer since 2017, with the RDIF and Dmitriev at the core of this developing partnership. (TASS/Getty Images)

“I'm always impressed by the combination of his very big and very significant positive vision for the Saudi people and for the world, with the ability to implement this vision into the very specific tangible actions that are transforming Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Russia, an investor in the Hyperloop transport system in which the Kingdom is also partnering, will be studying closely the recently announced mega-project The Line, and is also considering other aspects of the $6 trillion worth of investment opportunities expected to be open for outside investment as part of the Vision 2030 diversification strategy.

“This infrastructure technology is really going to be a solution for the world, and the transportation needs of the future. We really believe in the technology and we believe the ecosystem that will be created as a result of this project is definitely of interest to Russia,” Dmitriev said.

The OPEC+ alliance will remain the core of the Saudi-Russia economic partnership, he added, despite recent disagreement on oil supply policy that was resolved by Saudi Arabia’s unilateral decision to cut an extra 1 million barrels a day from global supply.

“We both are interested in stable oil markets so we are completely aligned. This surprise cut from Saudi Arabia is a very important contribution because it really led to more stability and more predictability in the oil markets,” he said.

Dmitriev, who has played a personal role in the OPEC+ deliberations because of his close Saudi ties, said that the oil price would remain “more or less stable” after recent strong gains. Even the best of allies can sometimes disagree on policy matters. Russia’s friendship with Iran was underlined recently when it dismissed as “absolutely unsubstantiated and unreasonable” US allegations of collusion between Tehran and Al-Qaeda.

“The position of Russia is that we work with all nations. We are trying to find compromises with the US, with Europe and with other nations, and I think with Iran it’s very important to have engagement and to have discussions on many different issues,” Dmitriev said.

Watch full episode below:

 

 

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
Updated 27 February 2021

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
  • In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s revolution, thousands of Ennahda supporters marched in Tunis
  • The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety and disillusionment with democracy

TUNIS: Tunisia’s biggest political party assembled an immense crowd of supporters in the capital on Saturday in a show of strength that could fuel a dispute between the president and the prime minister.
In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, tens of thousands of Ennahda supporters marched through central Tunis chanting “The people want to protect institutions!” and “The people want national unity!.”
The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety, disillusionment with democracy and competing reform demands from foreign lenders and the UGTT, the powerful main labor union, as debt repayments loom.
Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party led by Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has backed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a standoff with President Kais Saied over a cabinet reshuffle.
Banned before the revolution, it has been a member of most governing coalitions since then and, although its share of the vote has fallen in recent years, it still holds the most seats in parliament.
“Nationalists, Islamists, democrats and communists,” Ghannouchi told the crowd, “we were gathered together during the dictatorship ... and we must unite again.”
The most recent election, in 2019, delivered a fragmented parliament while propelling Saied, an independent, to the presidency.
When the government collapsed after only five months in office, Saied nominated Mechichi as prime minister.
But they soon fell out, and Mechichi turned for support to the two biggest parties — Ennahda and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia.
Last month, Mechichi changed 11 ministers in a reshuffle seen as replacing Saied’s allies with those of Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia. The president has refused to swear four of them in, however.
Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting last month against inequality and police abuses focused most of their anger on Mechichi and Ennahda.
Ennahda billed Saturday’s march as “in support of democracy,” but it was widely seen as an effort to mobilize popular opposition to Saied — raising the spectre of competing protest movements.
“This is a strong message that all the people want dialogue and national unity,” Fethi Ayadi, a senior Ennahda official, told Reuters.
To add to the tensions, demands by foreign lenders for spending cuts, which could lead to unpopular reductions in state programs, are opposed by the UGTT.
Tunisia’s 2021 budget forecasts borrowing needs of 19.5 billion Tunisian dinars ($7.2 billion), including about $5 billion in foreign loans.
But Tunisia’s credit rating has fallen since the coronavirus pandemic began, and market concerns about its ability to raise funds are reflected in sharp price rises for Tunisian credit default swaps — insurance against default on its debt. ($1 = 2.7 Tunisian dinars)


Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
Updated 27 February 2021

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
  • It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks
  • Interim PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map

TRIPOLI: The Libyan parliament will discuss holding a vote of confidence on a new unified government for the divided country on March 8, its powerful speaker Aguila Saleh said.
Oil-rich Libya has been mired in chaos since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted and killed in a popular uprising backed by a NATO air campaign a decade ago.
Its Government of National Accord (GNA) is based in Tripoli, while eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar supports a parallel administration based in the east.
“Parliament will convene to discuss a vote of confidence on the government on Monday, March 8, at 11 am in Sirte if the 5+5 Joint Military Commission guarantees the security of the meeting,” Saleh said in a statement late Friday, referring to a city halfway between east and west.
The military commission is a forum bringing together five representatives from each side.
“If that proves impossible, the session will be held in the temporary seat of parliament in Tobruk at the same date and time,” he said, adding that the military committee would need to advise the parliament in advance.
It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks.
Interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map.
He said he had submitted to Saleh a “vision” for a cabinet line-up that would help steer Libya to elections in December, and that the names of proposed ministers would be disclosed in parliament during the confidence vote.
Parliament has 21 days to vote on the line-up, according to the road map.
Dbeibah was selected early this month in a UN-sponsored inter-Libyan dialogue, the latest internationally backed bid to salvage the country from a decade of conflict and fragmented political fiefdoms.
Saleh said Friday that Dbeibah should choose “competent people with integrity, from across the country, in order to achieve (national) consensus” for his government.
“Everyone should be represented so that (Libya) can emerge from the tunnel,” Saleh said.
If approved, a new cabinet would replace the Tripoli-based GNA, headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the parallel administration in the east.
The premier will then face the giant task of unifying Libya’s proliferating institutions and leading the transition up to December 24 polls.


Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
Updated 27 February 2021

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
  • Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed
  • Militia groups responsible for attacking bases targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door

LONDON: Eight Iraqi interpreters who worked with British forces fighting Daesh have said they fear for their lives after receiving threats from Iranian-backed militias.
Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed to anti-coalition groups targeting bases used by US and UK troops, The Times reported.
The interpreters stopped translating for British forces at the Camp Taji military base in March 2020 after troops who were training Iraqi forces began to leave the country.
Two interpreters told the British newspaper that their full names, identification numbers and vehicle registrations were handed over to Iraqi Security Forces and the information was handed over to checkpoints in Baghdad. This meant that the data ended up being accessed by Iranian-backed militias.
Militia groups responsible for attacking bases where coalition troops were stationed targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door. They had told Iraqis working with coalition forces to work with them instead.
The interpreters have moved, except for one who could not afford to do so. Some have left their families amid concerns that they would be found and killed.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense said it was investigating the allegations. It is understood that the British military believes there were no data breaches and that standard security was followed.
Another interpreter said that Iranian-backed militias increased their targeting of coalition bases after the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
He said that tougher security requirements after the attacks meant that interpreters had to supply their full documentation, including vehicle details, to the coalition.
“They told us they would not pass this information to the Iraqi government, but it was then circulated for all the checkpoints throughout Baghdad. Many of these checkpoints are joint with the Popular Mobilization Forces — the legal name of these militias, of which many of them have loyalty to Iran,” he told The Times.
He is appealing to Britain to give him and his family sanctuary. “We are not a huge number, there are only eight of us with our families.”
The Ministry of Defense said: “While we do not employ interpreters in Iraq directly, we take any breach of personal security extremely seriously. We hold our contractors to the highest standards and are investigating.”


Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals
Updated 27 February 2021

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals
  • The vaccine was approved for emergency use for vulnerable groups in the Kingdom starting Jan. 21
  • The vaccine was produced by AstraZeneca in cooperation with the University of Oxford

DUBAI: Bahrain has announced it is increasing the number of weeks between the first and second dose of the Covishield-AstraZeneca vaccine from four to eight weeks, state news agency BNA reported.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the longer dose durations between eight to 12 weeks are related to greater vaccine effectiveness, the Ministry of Health’s Undersecretary for Public Health Dr. Mariam Al-Hajeri said.
The vaccine was approved for emergency use for vulnerable groups in the Kingdom starting Jan. 21. The groups include the elderly and those with immune complications, she said.
The vaccine was produced by AstraZeneca in cooperation with the University of Oxford and is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India under the name ‘Covishield’.


Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP
Updated 27 February 2021

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP
  • The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An explosion struck an Israeli-owned cargo ship sailing out of the Middle East on Friday, renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran.

The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy. The explosion in the Gulf of Oman forced the vessel to head to the nearest port.

Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, identified the stricken vessel as the MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship.

Another private security official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, similarly identified the ship as the Helios Ray.

Satellite-tracking data from website MarineTraffic.com showed the Helios Ray had been nearly entering the Arabian Sea around 0600 GMT Friday before it suddenly turned around and began heading back toward the Strait of Hormuz. It was coming from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and still listed Singapore as its destination on its tracker.

The blast comes as Tehran increasingly breaches its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers to create leverage over Washington. Iran is seeking to pressure Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP that the Israeli-owned vessel had left the Arabian Gulf Thursday bound for Singapore. On Friday at 0230 GMT, the vessel stopped for at least nine hours east of a main Omani port before making a 360-degree turn and sailing toward Dubai, likely for damage assessment and repairs, he said.

While details of the explosion remained unclear, two American defense officials told the AP that the ship had sustained two holes on its port side and two holes on its starboard side just above the waterline in the blast. The officials said it remained unclear what caused the holes. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss unreleased information on the incidents.

A United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as a Tel Aviv-based firm called Ray Shipping Ltd. Calls to Ray Shipping rang unanswered Friday.

Abraham Ungar, 74, who goes by “Rami,” is the founder of Ray Shipping Ltd., and is known as one of the richest men in Israel. He made his fortune in shipping and construction.

According to the Nikola Y. Vaptsarov Naval Academy, where Ungar provides support and maritime training, he owns dozens of car-carrying ships and employs thousands of engineers.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it was “aware and monitoring” the situation. The US Maritime Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department, issued a warning to commercial shippers early Saturday acknowledging the explosion and urging ships to “exercise caution when transiting” the Gulf of Oman.

While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global said it was very possible the blast stemmed from “asymmetric activity by Iranian military.”