Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, June 14, prepared by TASS
Media: SCO to battle against ‘three forces of evil’
The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries will adopt their Bishkek Declaration at today’s summit, Kommersant writes, adding that a draft declaration had fallen into the newspaper’s hands. The document emphasizes the need to jointly fight "three forces of evil" - separatism, terrorism and extremism. The members also agreed to mutually combat protectionism in global trade and cross-border crime, as well as to build a multipolar world order.
Informed sources in Moscow told the paper that one of the summit’s highlights would be the signing of a roadmap for cooperation between the SCO and Afghanistan, aimed at "assisting in the country’s reconstruction." "Afghanistan is a common headache for SCO members," Kyrgyzstan-based political scientist Igor Shestakov told the paper, adding that "joint efforts in this area are important for all of the organization’s members."
According to Kommersant’s sources, the integration of new SCO members, India and Pakistan, is going well. The organization escaped the threat of dysfunction after tensions had flared up between the two countries in February 2019.
The SCO regularly conducts anti-terrorist drills that involve Russian and Chinese troops. Based on this fact, foreign columnists alleged that Moscow and Beijing sought to create their own version of NATO but were unable to do that because of differences on Central Asia, which used to be part of the Soviet Union but was being taken over by China.
In this regard, Higher School of Economics Professor Vladimir Lukin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "Russia and China don’t have any political differences concerning Central Asia since they share the same goals in the region." "They support stability, economic development and secular regimes. As for the economy, it’s not right to say that China is driving Russia out of Central Asia. China is not driving Russia out, it is just increasing its own presence in the region, like everywhere else in the world," the expert pointed out.
Russia still remains the most important trade partner for some countries, particularly for Kazakhstan. However, China has a more powerful economy and the country’s economic presence is growing. Competition between certain companies is possible but it doesn’t affect political relations between the two countries, Lukin emphasized.
Media: Oil tanker incident heats up tensions between US, Iran
From now on, all oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz are going to have additional security, and maritime patrols in the region are going to be beefed up, Izvestia learned from a source in Norway’s Frontline company, whose Front Altair oil tanker was one of the two vessels that had come under attack in Iran’s territorial waters on Thursday. However, experts interviewed by the paper say it is too early to blame the incident on Tehran.
The maritime areas where civil navigation is at risk are protected by international groups involving naval ships from various countries, US Center for Naval Analyses expert Michael Kofman told the paper. According to him, several ships, including American and British ones, are deployed to the zone where the attack took place. Their task is to combat pirates and provide assistance to ships in distress. Oil tankers only carry staff members of private military companies hired by ship owners, the expert noted, adding that those mercenaries were capable of thwarting attacks by pirates aboard light boats, armed with portable grenade launchers and AK rifles, but they couldn’t detect saboteurs underwater.
According to Head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center of the Near and Middle East Vladimir Fitin, forces seeking to push the US towards a direct armed conflict with Iran were behind the tanker attack. The expert believes that it could be the Arab monarchies or Israeli intelligence agencies. However, he did not rule out that pirates at sea like those active off Somalia’s coast and at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden were involved in the incident.
Last year, amid growing tensions with the US, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost 20% of total global oil consumption passes, Vedomosti notes. However, this time it would be unreasonable to suspect Iran, said Maria Belova of Vygon Consulting. She pointed out that on May 12, four oil tankers had caught fire on the left side of the Strait and no one had claimed responsibility for the incident. "Today, two vessels are on fire on the right side of the Strait and there is no information about the cause of the fire. It would make more sense for the Iranians to deploy artillery to the Strait area and nearby islands to prevent ships from passing," Belova said.
Professor Vladimir Sazhin, a Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes that the incident should be blamed on some militant organizations rather than on Iranian or Arab state agencies. In his view, terrorists seek to further raise tensions in the Persian Gulf area.
Izvestia: Serbia poised to send troops to Kosovo
Belgrade is ready to send troops to Kosovo if international forces fail to ensure the security of the region’s Serb population, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told Izvestia. However, he was hopeful that it wouldn’t spiral into an armed conflict and Belgrade wouldn’t have to ask Moscow for assistance.
According to Dacic, "the Albanian side in Kosovo is reluctant to make agreements and continues whipping up incidents in order to hinder efforts aimed at reaching a compromise." "Their goal is to intimidate the Serbs and make them leave northern Kosovo. In this situation, we continue to remind the international community that KFOR must protect the Serbs," Dacic pointed out. "If the international community fails to respond in accordance with the United Nations’ resolution, if the Serbs have to face violence, if these attacks on them continue, then Belgrade will have to react and Serbia is ready for that. However, I hope that there will be no need to do it," the Serbian top diplomat added. "We are grateful to Russia for its support, particularly, political support in relation to the issue of Kosovo and Metohija. At the same time, I certainly hope that we won’t have to ask for assistance," Dacic said.
If the Serbian Armed Forces try to cross Kosovo’s administrative border, they will face an immediate intervention on the part of NATO and the United States, Senior Researcher with the Institute for Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pyotr Iskenderov said, pointing out that Kosovo’s Uroshevac hosted one of the largest US military bases in Europe. "None of the parties involved in efforts to resolve the Kosovo issue wants the conflict to escalate. In order to prevent tensions from rising, Russia, the US and the European Union need to help hammer out a specific formula that will make it possible for Belgrade to interact with Pristina without recognizing Kosovo’s independence. For instance, Serbia could refrain from a full recognition, giving its permission for Kosovo’s accession to the United Nations and other international organizations," the expert noted.
Izvestia: US-China trade war will halve Russia’s economic growth rate
Russia’s economic growth may slow to 0.7-0.8% in 2019-2020, the ACRA rating agency said in an analytical review, noting that Washington’s trade wars with China and Mexico will negatively affect Russia’s economic growth rate. ACRA’s forecast is reasonable, said experts interviewed by Izvestia.
Chances for a compromise on Trump’s trade disputes with China and Mexico are pretty slim so developed countries - first and foremost, the US itself and leading European countries such as Germany and France - are highly likely to face stagnation and recession as early as this year, the review says. The demand for Russian export goods will decline by at least two percent because of the worsening situation on developed markets, ACRA noted. Rising global uncertainty will also have a negative impact on investment plans concerning Russia, while the depreciation of the ruble will hurt the population’s real income.
Associate Director of ACRA’s Sovereign Ratings and Macroeconomic Analysis Group Dmitry Kulikov explained to Izvestia that a Russian economic development scenario that had been considered as pessimistic turned out to be standard. "We now believe that GDP is most likely to grow by 0.7-0.8%," he said.
Global trade wars have a limited impact on Russia because the country’s economy is relatively independent, said Alfa Bank Chief Economist Natalia Orlova. If ACRA’s forecast comes true, Russia will have to use domestic investment to drive economic growth, particularly through the implementation of its National Projects, she added.
Trade wars and a debt crisis are picking up steam across the globe, said Head of Macroeconomics and Finance at the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting Dmitry Belousov. The main trouble is that the two may coincide. In addition, Russia’s economy may fall into recession following a drop in oil prices and a global economic decline, Belousov pointed out. He added that although Russia had a certain margin of safety, a repeat of the 2009-2010 crisis was still possible.
Vedomosti: Thaw in Russians’ attitudes towards Ukraine, US
The number of Russians who consider Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan to be the country’s closest friends has grown, Vedomosti wrote, citing a poll by Levada Center. Meanwhile, the number of those who believe that the United States and Ukraine are Russia’s enemies has plummeted from 78% and 49% to 67% and 40% respectively.
"The main reason behind such an attitude towards CIS members is their lack of hostility, particularly in the media, which alone is considered as a sign of friendship," Levada Center Director Lev Gudkov explained. No active military campaign is taking place in Ukraine at the moment, while President Vladimir Zelensky has inspired high hopes for a reset of relations. There is also hope that relations with the United States will improve: "people want an improvement and hope that the current standoff will simmer down."
Russians’ attitude towards the US and Ukraine has slightly improved because many have lost interests in politics as they are now more concerned about rising prices and their wages stagnating rather than about what is going on beyond their borders, said political scientist Alexei Makarkin.
"A shift in the people’s interests towards domestic issues has softened their attitude towards the country’s ‘usual enemies.’ People still don’t like them but many have grown tired of this. Besides, after Zelensky’s election win, hope has emerged that relations with Ukraine will get better," the expert pointed out. According to him, the improvement in Russians’ attitude towards CIS countries can be explained by the fact that when people lose interests in politics, they are willing to make friends with those countries they know and understand well. "Only a small share of Russians know about sporadic campaigns against [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko or about a revolution that brought [Armenian Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan to power. Others see that these countries are not joining NATO and they are not subject to criticism on TV, while common people take no interest in nuances. This is why they have little wish to search for enemies, seeking to pay more attention to domestic matters in the company of allies," Makarkin concluded.