Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 7, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Ukraine seeking NATO membership, tries to drag alliance into Donbass quagmire
The Donbass negotiations are stuck in the mud. Neither the Normandy format, nor the Contact Group are able to agree on anything, Kommersant writes. Against this background, Kiev is betting on the West’s help, trying to persuade NATO to grant Ukraine membership in the alliance. According to the newspaper, the events that are now unfolding are beginning to look like the situation that had developed in 2008 before the war in another hot spot - South Ossetia.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission’s latest report, dated April 3, shows a notable surge in ceasefire violations in Donbass. There were 594 breaches in the Donetsk region and 427 violations in Lugansk. Due to this exacerbation, on April 6, Kiev requested an emergency meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) to resolve the situation in eastern Ukraine. However, the chances that the negotiations initiated by Ukraine will take place are slim, Kommersant's sources say.
While the negotiations are at a standstill, Ukraine has focused on dragging the West into the conflict, and NATO in particular, Kommersant writes. Special efforts are being directed towards NATO. President Vladimir Zelensky of Ukraine believes that NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass. However, the talks about Ukraine's membership in NATO, judging by Washington’s comments, failed to lead to the desired result that Kiev wants, according to the newspaper.
The latest events around Donbass resemble 2008 when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili also actively sought to join NATO. Instead of a membership action plan, back then Ukraine and Georgia received assurances from NATO that they would become members of the alliance. After that, the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia began to rapidly heat up, and it all ended with the August war and the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Kommersant writes.
Vedomosti: Second Suez Canal flop calls waterway’s reliability into question
Just a week after the container ship Ever Given was refloated after having run aground in the Suez Canal, the Minerva Nike tanker found itself in a similar dilemma in the waterway’s southern section. The consequences of the second incident were fixed immediately, but the issue of choosing alternative routes for international logistics is becoming more acute, Vedomosti writes. That said, Russian Railways might benefit from the situation.
The trade turnover between China and the EU countries is steadily rising. Last year, Beijing became the main trading partner of Brussels, beating the United States. Under the current conditions, it is essential to make such deliveries faster and more reliable, and in this sense, land routes passing through Russia have already demonstrated their high efficiency, according to the paper. "The speed of delivery of containers in the main directions is on average 1,100-1,200 km per day, considering the passage of all borders. Specifically, from China to Europe, delivery takes 12-14 days. This is much faster than sea transport, road transport, and is comparable to aviation," Russian Railways told Vedomosti.
In the future, another international route may be launched: The North-South transport corridor linking India, Iran, and Russia, which can become an effective alternative to the Suez Canal. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti generally back the idea of creating new transport corridors and building up existing ones. At the same time, Head of Rail Freight Division in the EU and China at AsstrA group of companies Vladislav Martin noted that the main difficulty of the North-South route is that Iran will become one of the key links in the transportation chain, which can trigger complications with Western partners in the future.
However, the question remains open as to whether Russia and its partners will have time to implement their plans faster than their competitors. For example, Israel and the UAE have launched a project to modernize the port of Eilat and plug Israel into the transport network of the Middle East.
Izvestia: JCPOA players try to salvage Iran nuke deal through expert consultations
The participants in the Iranian nuclear deal have begun resuscitating the accord. Two expert groups were formed in Vienna, responsible for lifting Washington’s sanctions against Tehran and returning Iran to its obligations under the agreement. In addition, in the near future, indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States will begin. Experts interviewed by Izvestia positively assessed the start of the consultations. Now, the question is how fast and effective the rehabilitation of the JCPOA will be.
The expert community is looking at the outcome of the current consultations with cautious optimism, said Hamidreza Azizi, visiting fellow at the German Institute for International Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, in an interview with Izvestia. The decision by Iran and the United States to join this diplomatic process is a positive sign. So far there is no talk of an immediate restoration of the JCPOA, so the only option now is a gradual return to it.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington, which are expected to follow the current meeting have stirred up high hopes, Izvestia writes. These contacts imply that the representatives of both countries will communicate through intermediaries.
Experts noted that the current situation is fundamentally different from the one that developed in 2018 when Washington had just announced its withdrawal from the agreement. "The Donald Trump administration imposed many new sanctions against Iran, and not all of them dealt with the nuclear issue. Some touched on human rights, others on supporting terrorism. Therefore, the question is how to deal with these measures," said Andrey Baklitsky, a senior researcher at MGIMO University, in an interview with the newspaper.
Izvestia: China becomes second main creditor of former Soviet countries after Russia
China has become the largest sovereign creditor of post-Soviet countries after Russia, according to a World Bank report. In total, Beijing bankrolled the former USSR republics to the tune of $6.6 bln. China issued most of the loans to Belarus ($3.5 bln), Kyrgyzstan ($1.8 bln), and Tajikistan ($1.1 bln). According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the myth of China's imperial ambitions, including in the post-Soviet space, is exaggerated, therefore, from a political point of view, the risks for Russia from it are not very high. However, as far as commercial activity goes, it is likely that China will elbow Russian business out of these countries.
The dominant role of Russia and China as the region’s creditors is expected. Both states are more economically connected with the post-Soviet space than the rest and lead its trading partners’ list by a wide margin. China's interest in Central Asia is quite understandable and predictable. A branch of the New Silk Road is being laid through this region, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will serve as a key link with Tibet, RANEPA’s Vladimir Klimanov told Izvestia.
For Russia, the strengthening of Beijing in the post-Soviet space creates business rather than political risks. Disputes between Russian and Chinese businesses about the implementation of certain projects are bound to occur, the newspaper writes.
China is gradually becoming the most important partner for Central Asian countries, says Alexander Gabuev who chairs the Russia in Asia-Pacific program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. This is a completely natural trend that has been gaining momentum in recent decades. From a geopolitical point of view, the strengthening of China in the post-Soviet space is unlikely to pose a serious threat to Russia, although Moscow’s cultural influence is decreasing, it is still quite large, moreover, the states themselves are warier of China than Russia.
Kommersant: Russian authorities warn of possible increase in COVID-19 incidence
The Russian authorities are once again concerned about the epidemiological situation in the country due to the spread of coronavirus. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stated that the virus has not retreated, and called for additional measures to protect Russians by Friday. Experts interviewed by Kommersant associate the possible third wave mainly with the low rates of vaccination and partly with the high infection rate of new mutations.
Chief physician of the Leader-Medicine medical center, infectious disease specialist Evgeny Timakov, calls the authorities' fears "fair." In an interview with Kommersant, he clarified that "in all scenarios of the epidemiological situation" the virus needs about two months to start actively multiplying. Thus, according to the specialist, the number of detected cases of the UK strain in Russia may increase in mid-April. In addition, he continued, it should be expected that people who were ill a year ago and lost their immunity will become infected again.
At the same time, Head of the laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences Konstantin Severinov believes that there may be much more cases of new strains in Russia than official data indicate. According to him, in order to reliably detect these mutations, it is necessary to have a developed system of whole genome sequencing of the virus variants, which is "limited" in Russia.
Head of the Intelligent Logistics Center at St. Petersburg State University Viktor Zakharov, one of the authors of the mathematical model for the spread of COVID-19 in Russia, linked the possibility of a third wave with a "not very active" vaccination campaign.
The Health Ministry confirmed to the newspaper that the situation with coronavirus "remains tense," but the department is confident in the effectiveness of Russian vaccines.