- Press review: Diplomatic purges escalate and assassination plot draws Minsk, Moscow closer
- Press review: How Biden’s sanctions impact Russia and what looms on Russia-Ukraine border
- Press review: Why the Taliban backed out of talks and Russia wary of Biden’s summit bid
- Press review: Biden calls Putin asking to meet and will new EU sanctions harm JCPOA talks
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 4, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Russia’s relations with Europe and US hit rock bottom amid Navalny trial
The global response to Russia’s decision to jail opposition figure Alexey Navalny shows that another long-term destabilization factor has emerged in the troublesome relations between Russia and the West. After describing the court’s ruling as political persecution of a defiant Kremlin critic, the West closed a chapter on continuing dialogue in the Navalny case. Meanwhile, the storm of outrage among Western politicians shows that they lack a clear vision on further steps as well as any determination to fully sever ties with Moscow, Kommersant writes.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, who is arriving for a visit in Moscow on February 4-6, is facing a task that is a hard nut to crack. On the one hand, he has to show a tough position and on the other hand preserve prospects of cooperation in those areas, where interaction between the EU and Russia is still possible, according to the newspaper.
Given that Navalny’s prison sentence was passed just two weeks after the Biden administration took power, one of the key issues is Washington’s possible response and the prospect of new US sanctions against Russia. The first statements make it possible to draw a conclusion that unlike the Trump White House, when Washington’s view differed from its European allies, this time the Euro-Atlantic alliance will try to speak with one voice with Moscow.
Meanwhile, considering that the demand to immediately release Navalny cannot be met, Moscow will demonstrate a tough position and readiness to engage the West in a dispute on whether "democratic rights and freedoms" are observed in the liberal democracy’s citadels, the newspaper writes. "Josep Borrell is facing a virtually unsolvable task. Brussels expects him to show rigidity and lay out an actual ultimatum for Russia. However, this position will mean that the visit is doomed to failure, and this won’t definitely satisfy Mr. Borrell," said Director of the Center for Political Research Andrey Fedorov. According to the commentator, amid the inevitable confrontation, the top EU diplomat will try to keep elements of selective cooperation. This means that major diplomatic struggles are on the horizon.
Izvestia: West shows growing interest in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine
After an expert review, Russia will be able to request permission for selling Sputnik V vaccine to the European Union, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) told Izvestia. The recent publication in The Lancet journal confirming that the Russian coronavirus vaccine is one of the safest and most effective ones worldwide made European leaders speak about using it on their soil.
The renowned medical journal published the results of Phase Three of the Russian vaccine’s clinical trials on February 2. According to the publication, the efficiency of the vaccine amounted to 91.6% after the first dose. The Russian vaccine’s safety is confirmed by the fact that no serious side effects have been reported. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first among European leaders to say that this is good news. President of the European Commission Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen also stated that Sputnik V could be used in European countries if Russia published all documents related to the vaccine, according to European diplomatic sources.
Despite the conditions put forward by the EU countries, it’s noteworthy that the article in the medical journal dispelled certain skepticism about the vaccine. In August 2020, Sputnik V was the first registered COVID-19 vaccine in the world, but the Western powers merely claimed that Russia’s decision was hasty. Only Hungary had the guts to approve it by the end of 2020 and came under fierce criticism over that move, the paper writes.
After The Lancet’s publication on Sputnik V was released, the Western mass media’s tone about the Russian vaccine also changed. Austria and France are considering using the Russian jab. A source in the EMA confirmed to Izvestia that Spunik V’s manufacturer had sent a request to the agency for an expert check (consultation). The next step would be filing an application for obtaining permission for sale. According to the source, two weeks ago EMA representatives met with the Russian manufacturer to discuss plans for further cooperation.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon seeks to curb China’s growing nuclear stockpiles
Admiral Charles A. Richard, commander of US Strategic Command, has warned that regional conflicts might spiral into a nuclear war. This threat has gained real shape given that China is bolstering its arsenals, seeking to be on par with the United States and Russia. This notion was also voiced by new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who told Congress that America needed to keep its edge over China in terms of nuclear weapons. Experts note that the most dangerous hotspot, which could trigger Armageddon, is Taiwan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Hawks in the US establishment are dissatisfied over the extension of the Russian-US New START (New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). They say that this could give China five more years to build up its nuclear stockpiles and emerge as a great nuclear power like Russia and the United States. China’s nuclear stocks are increasing swiftly, and in no way does this contribute to defusing tensions in US-Chinese relations, according to the newspaper.
Is it true to say that in the event of a nuclear war, Russia would find itself in the same boat with China? Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, pointed out that contacts between the Chinese and Russian militaries are close. However, so far there haven’t been any reports on holding joint drills among their nuclear forces. "In theory, this is possible," he said, noting that the 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship stipulates that in case of a belligerent danger, the parties could hold consultations with each other on how to eliminate this threat. "It’s not the same as the mutual commitments that exist in the pacts between the US and Britain or between the US and France," he noted. "So, it’s difficult to imagine how Russian-Chinese cooperation would look like in practice."
Izvestia: OPEC+ hopes market will recover in second half of 2021
Production discipline among OPEC+ oil deal participants and expectations that the global economic recession will end amid the declining COVID-19 incidence rate will bolster the oil price growth, experts interviewed by Izvestia said. According to them, in the event that the current market dynamics hold on into March, the cartel may increase quotas on oil production. At the same time, even if OPEC+ decides to keep containing it, this will still bring about rising oil prices.
The meeting of the OPEC+ Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) on February 3 ended without any recommendations on production despite an upbeat mood over the market’s prospects among the oil cartel’s countries. OPEC+ hopes that the demand for oil will recover more quickly in the second half of 2021 amid the active vaccination drive.
Head of the Alpari analytical center Alexander Razuvayev told Izvestia that the OPEC+ deal in December was fulfilled at 99%, while OPEC countries’ compliance was 103%. According to OPEC+, the further distribution of vaccines and the decreasing coronavirus case tally will contribute to restoring the economic growth in general. Also, production discipline among the cartel’s participants will also help stabilize the market, the expert noted.
According to Oleg Bogdanov, a leading analyst at QBF, "the key problem in the global oil market from the OPEC+ viewpoint is the increasing output by independent producers." Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Russia and other OPEC+ countries sought to comply with the deal at 100%. However, the cartel needs to draw special attention to the dynamics of oil production by manufacturers, which are not part of the alliance, he noted.
Among major oil producers that are not party to the deal, are the US, Brazil, Norway and Canada. Deputy Director General of the Institute of National Energy Alexander Frolov notes that only the US with its huge volume could significantly affect the market. America’s output is nearly 11 mln barrels per day, which outperforms all the above-mentioned states.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tehran ups the ante in bargaining with Washington
Both the Biden administration and the Iranian leadership are well aware of how important it is to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). For Washington, it is essential to compel Tehran to meet its commitments under the nuclear deal since it significantly limits its nuclear activity and basically hinders Iran’s drive for acquiring nuclear weapons. Tehran wants Washington to lift sanctions imposed under the Trump administration and to resume its oil experts and scrap a ban on financial transactions, Alexander Maryasov, an expert at the Valdai Discussion Club, and a former Russian Ambassador to Iran (2001-2005), writes in his article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The talk now is not about whether the US could return to the JCPOA, but about the timeframe of this comeback. Now the sides are beginning to bargain about who will start the process of return. Neither Tehran nor Washington are rushing to launch the effort since this could be viewed by the JCPOA’s opponents in both countries as a manifestation of weakness and losing ground.
For a reason, Iran notes that the US was the first one to violate its commitments. The process of ironing out the situation could take a long time and require direct talks, probably confidential ones, like during the early stage of drawing up the JCPOA. Meanwhile, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been actively opposing the restoration of the nuclear deal with Iran.
Trump’s "maximum pressure" against Tehran sharply weakened the positions of Iran’s pragmatic leadership, namely President Hassan Rouhani, who bet on signing the JCPOA. However, this seriously boosted the influence of Iranian conservative forces and radicals, who were against any deals with the US. There are grounds to think that the conservatives are likely to secure victory in the June presidential election. In case the JCPOA is not restored by that time, it will be more challenging to achieve this goal should Iran’s hard-liners assume full power.