Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 13, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: What topped the agenda at the recent Moscow-hosted Armenian-Azerbaijani talks
The outcome of trilateral talks between the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan held in Moscow on January 11 drew polar opposite responses in Baku and Yerevan. Azerbaijan believes the meeting was fruitful since an agreement was reached on reviving economic and transportation ties in the region. Meanwhile, the opposition in Armenia blamed Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for being weak-kneed and losing ground. A priority issue for Armenian society is returning POWs, but instead of this, the talks focused on the economic agenda, at Azerbaijan’s insistence.
According to Azerbaijani political analyst and an expert with the Valdai Discussion Club Farkhad Mammadov, Baku does not view all Armenian captives as POWs. At present, Armenia seeks to return 62 people, whom Azerbaijan brands as "saboteurs." As for the status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the fate of Armenians living there, here Baku’s stance will be even tougher, the expert noted. "Azerbaijan will discuss with Armenia only inter-state issues. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over and the future of Armenians in Karabakh can be only discussed with international organizations and other mediators, but not with Yerevan," he said. So, Pashinyan, who could not boast about any other achievements at the talks, decided to focus on the prospects of cultivating economic ties.
Thomas de Waal, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe, believes that the most interesting part of the negotiations between the three leaders was left "behind closed doors," while the economic agenda was brought to the foreground just to declare a result. "Without a doubt, Pashinyan sought to achieve an agreement on the prisoners of war and missing persons, but Aliyev is not interested in this. Aliyev is probably dissatisfied with the peacekeeping mission’s work but Putin is not ready for any compromise here. What’s left? A sincere and common interest in restoring automobile roads and railways," the expert said. However, this is a long-term plan and its fulfillment requires both infrastructure and "political will and agreements on a basic level, and there aren’t any now."
RBC: Experts predict 2021 to be year of shattered illusions for the US
For the United States 2021 will become a year of shattered illusions over its deep societal rift, analysts at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the Eurasian Strategies agency predicted. Joe Biden will inherit not only the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftermath, but he also remains illegitimate in the eyes of voters, who backed Donald Trump and showed that Trumpism is a new reality, the experts said in their report "International threats 2021. Geopolitics after pandemic," quoted by RBC.
This divide will make it impossible for Biden to carry out serious, not just cosmetic reforms (returning to the Paris Agreement or to the World Health Organization), the analysts said. Regarding foreign policy, the US has faced the impossibility of regaining its status of a global hegemon and in order to justify losing international influence, the American elites have launched a campaign against revisionist powers - China and Russia - with the aim of blaming external foes for their own problems, the authors said.
As for Washington’s Russia policy, two trends may develop in 2021. The United States could continue demonizing Moscow, but it is not ruled out that realists will gain the upper hand, realizing the danger of any further deterioration in Russian-US ties. Their approach may coincide with the Biden administration’s plans to avoid conflicts in domestic and foreign affairs, according to the experts. However, it is challenging to find a foothold to put bilateral relations on a positive track given that Biden team’s disagreements with Moscow on Syria and Ukraine will be even stronger. The experts anticipate a "new outbreak of infowars and political provocations against Russia from Ukraine, Poland, Georgia and other countries, seeking to curry favor with the new American administration or which just got used to gaining benefits from the Russian-US confrontation."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pandemic turns China into leading global powerhouse
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, China will more rapidly win the status of the world’s largest economy, World Economic Forum experts said. In just a few years, Beijing will elbow the US out of its position as the leading economic power. Technological progress and China’s population, which is five times that of America’s, will make Beijing’s triumph almost inevitable, the economists said, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
China’s GDP in late 2020 is expected to exceed $15.2 trln versus $20.2 trln in the United States. China is set to become the world’s top economy, replacing the US by 2028, the analysts note citing the Center for Economics and Business Research’s (CEBR) data. So, China will secure victory five years earlier than originally predicted.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences helped China emerge as the winner in its rivalry with the US. According to the CEBR, Beijing’s smart control of the pandemic along with strict early isolation and blows to the West’s long-term growth improved Chinese economic indicators.
China’s economy is reviving by leaps and bounds and is expected to start rapidly growing as early as this year. Compared with the US economy, China’s economic growth rate will be much higher. Meanwhile, a rising Chinese economy poses certain risks for Russia, chief investment analyst at Otkrytie Broker Konstantin Bushuyev cautioned. "China’s excessive strengthening may threaten Russia in the future, if a new generation of Chinese politicians for some reason decides to speak with Russia from a position of strength," he noted.
Kommersant: Rising energy prices boost Russian coal exports to Europe
Russia’s coal exports have been growing 20% over the past weeks amid rising prices in Europe and Asia due to a cold winter. In Europe, coal prices surged to $70 per tonne, making the supplies of most Russian companies profitable. Rising gas prices also encouraged the energy sector to switch to cheaper coal. The increase came at a convenient time for major suppliers and they managed to sign annual contracts on more advantageous terms, analysts said, according to Kommersant.
The current hike in prices came as a pleasant surprise for the market. Analysts at Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company (UMMC) earlier predicted an 8-10% slump in coal prices in the Atlantic Basin in November-December. The negative expectations were linked to the prospect of a growing supply of coal and reduced demand over the second wave of COVID-19 and the renewed lockdowns in Europe. However, this winter in the Northern hemisphere was cold, especially in Asia, thus triggering a surge in gas prices.
Airat Khalikov, an expert at Gazprombank, told the newspaper that the rising coal prices were linked to an increase in demand in the industry after the tough coronavirus lockdowns were eased. The second factor is the winter in Europe and North America, which is colder than the two previous winters. This sparked a demand in natural gas and coal at power plants and public utilities, the analyst noted. Another factor was a problem with exports from Indonesia over poor weather conditions. "For Russian coal producers an important positive moment was the ruble devaluation in 2020, which enabled a reduction in dollar-based expenses," the expert noted. However, the ruble devaluation increases spending on importing equipment, which will in general affect investment activity and might slow down the growth rate.
Izvestia: Bitcoin on track to beating gold
Amid a large-scale rally on global markets early this year, gold prices have been demonstrating some weakness. Many analysts attribute moderate investors’ interest in the precious metal to a genuine emerging rival - bitcoin - which has seen a historic high since the start of the year. These two tools have much in common, but despite the huge popularity of cryptocurrency, it’s too early to dismiss gold, as its advantages over bitcoin are still evident, Izvestia writes.
Indeed, bitcoin in many terms seems to be an attractive alternative to traditional investments in gold. The virtual currency surged from $8,000 in early 2020 to a record high of $27,000 by the year-end. Bitcoin became popular due to its recognition by stock market and foreign currency players. Besides, thanks to PayPal’s support it’s much easier to buy and sell it and this was a huge step towards turning it into a "normal" currency.
A major advantage of bitcoin is its 21 mln limit after which its mining will be stopped, while the gold reserves will keep growing for years to come. Another benefit is that it’s convenient to store the cryptocurrency, while gold has to be kept in physical storage and needs to be transported. Third, bitcoin is popular among young people, who are attracted by its digital freedom and independence from state institutions.
However, it is too early to say that bitcoin will squeeze gold out of the position of the most reliable alternative investment, the paper writes. Bitcoin still remains volatile and progress towards recognizing it as an official payment tool is still slow.