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


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.


Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
Updated 28 February 2021

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
  • Patriarch calls for UN-led forum to save nation ‘from those who harbor evil’

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s influential Christian Maronite church has warned that the country is facing the threat of a “full-fledged coup,” and called for an international conference to avert “chaos, hunger and oppression.”

In an emotional address to thousands of followers on Saturday, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he was “drawing red lines for anyone who harbors evil for Lebanon, regardless of their sect.”
His comments were widely seen as a veiled reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah along with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder President Michel Aoun.
“We are facing a full-fledged coup attempt,” Al-Rai told Lebanese who traveled to the church’s headquarters in Bkerke to support his demand for a UN-sponsored international conference to save Lebanon.
In response to the patriarch’s speech, people chanted: “Hezbollah is terrorist,” “Get out, Iran” and “Michel Aoun, leave.”
Cries of “Revolution! Revolution!” were also heard.
The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

We want to provide support to the Lebanese Army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.

Patriarch Bechara, Boutros Al-Rai

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, did not attend, saying it feared that the gathering “would be used against it,” according to affiliated websites.
Sources at Bkerke told Arab News that Al-Rai decided to speak out “because Lebanon is facing an existential threat” following the failure of a string of initiatives, including his efforts to reconcile Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Banners unfurled on the dome of the Bkerke church read: “Neutrality, sovereignty, and stability,” “Lebanon comes first and last,” and “Bkerke for all of Lebanon.”
Al-Rai said at the outset of his address: “Long live a single, united and neutral Lebanon that is active, positive, sovereign, independent, free and strong.”
He said: “We are demanding this now because all other solutions have reached a dead end, and we have not been able to agree on the fate of our country, nor even to discuss our homeland’s affairs. We support finding a solution inside Lebanon.”

BACKGROUND

The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

He added: “To let hunger and oppression destroy the country is something we do not accept in any way. Rejecting the proposed solutions means chaos and seizing the levers of power.”
Al-Rai called for an international conference to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality, so that it “is no longer a victim of conflicts and wars, and a land of division.”
He added: “We want the state to extend its authority over the entire Lebanese territory. We want to provide support to the Lebanese army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.”
Al-Rai said the UN-sponsored conference also should agree on a plan “to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees to their homeland.”
He said: “We do not want armies and camps, nor do we want Lebanon to be undermined. Lebanon’s borders are not subject to amendment, its Christian-Muslim partnership is untouchable, and its democracy is not subject to veto.”
The patriarch called on protesters to continue to speak out, saying: “Do not remain silent in the face of corruption. Do not tolerate the theft of your money, the fluid borders, the failure of the political class, the chaos in the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, or the imprisonment of the innocent.
“Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms.”
Participants in the rally, many from different sects, told Arab News that Al-Rai is their last hope.
“No politician cares for the collapsing state. Politicians have left us on our own,” said one.
A Muslim woman in her 50s said: “This is an opportunity to raise our voice. The patriarch’s stances are patriotic, and history will remember him. The country is collapsing.”
A man in his 40s said: “I have come to Bkerke to say that people suffer from hunger and despair, and there is nothing left to lose.”
Internal security forces personnel were deployed on the road to the church’s headquarters, and those entering the square were searched.
Before the gathering, Hezbollah and FPM supporters took to social media to share tweets opposing the event.


Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
Updated 28 February 2021

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
  • Iran-backed terror militia using trapped families ‘as human shield’
  • Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas

AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of Yemeni families trapped inside their camps in Marib province by Iran-backed Houthis are being used as a human shield against government forces, a Yemen government unit has claimed.

In a report seen by Arab News on Saturday, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that militia fighters had besieged camps and planted land mines on main roads to stop families escaping and hinder advancing troops.

“Houthis have prevented 470 families from fleeing, using them as human shields. Until today, many families in the camps are still trapped by the Houthis,” the report said.

Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas. 

The government unit has appealed to the rebels to stop using displaced families as hostages and allow them to leave the camps.

“The Executive Unit for IDP Camps calls on the Houthis to respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and displaced persons, and to open safe corridors in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

The Houthis earlier this month renewed a bloody offensive on Marib, an oil-rich city and the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country. For four weeks, the Houthis have faced stiff resistance from government forces backed by massive air and logistics support from the Arab coalition. 

Army commanders say that hundreds of Houthis have been killed, wounded or captured and their advance on Marib halted. 

Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Thaybani, commander of the army’s Military Operation Authority, said that more than half the Houthi fighters sent to seize Marib have died or been wounded in the fighting, while army troops and allied tribesmen have pushed back all of the Houthi attacks on government-controlled areas. 

Yemeni government forces also suffered heavy casualties during fierce clashes.

Local officers and media said on Saturday that Brig. Gen. Abdul Ghani Sha’alan, commander of the Special Security Forces in Marib, was one of several government soldiers who died in fighting with the rebels near Balouq mountain in Serwah district, west of Marib city, on Friday. 

A local military officer, who declined to be named, told Arab News that Sha’alan was leading government troops pushing back a Houthi attack on the peak, which was claimed by government forces last week.

Several army commanders and tribal leaders have been killed since the beginning of the rebel offensive on Marib.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized international rights groups over their failure to “name and shame” the Houthis for attacking residential areas after the densely populated city was targeted by 10 ballistic missiles in the previous 24 hours.

“Since the beginning of February, the province has come under the largest and fiercest Houthi attack in which the militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles,” the ministry said in a statement. 

On Friday, Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, hailed military support from the Arab coalition to help tilt the war in the army’s favor, vowing to continue backing army troops and tribesmen until they push the Houthi out of areas under their control.


Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
Updated 27 February 2021

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
  • Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel
  • Comments follow Friday’s attack on Syria-Iraq border compound by US jets

LONDON: US airstrikes in Syria demonstrate that Iran should expect retaliation for supporting militia groups that threaten American interests, President Joe Biden has warned.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” he said when asked about Friday morning’s strikes on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
The Pentagon said the attack was carried out by two US Air Force F-15E aircraft that fired seven missiles.

The pair destroyed nine buildings used by Iran-backed militias and heavily damaged two others in eastern Syria.
Officials said the strikes were not intended to destroy the groups, but to demonstrate that the US “will act firmly” to avoid greater regional escalations.
The airstrikes were “legal and appropriate” as they “took out facilities housing valuable capabilities used by the militia groups to attack US and allied forces in Iraq,” officials said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the leading Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said the decision was “the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden “used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel.”
She said the strikes were designed to deter future actions by Iran-backed militias following a rocket attack on Feb. 15 in Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member.
Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the strikes resulted in “casualties,” but declined to comment on the details.
An Iraqi militia official with close links to Iran said one fighter was killed in the strike and several others wounded.
The group housed in the compound is known as Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades — an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group sponsored by Iran.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons. It reported that 22 fighters from an Iraqi umbrella group of militias were killed.
Kataeb Hezbollah confirmed that one of its fighters was killed and warned that it had the right to retaliate.