Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, February 10, prepared by TASS
Vedomosti: European Union to pursue new anti-Russian sanctions
The European Union will discuss new sanctions against Russia at a meeting of foreign ministers on February 22 and during its March summit of heads of state, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell announced at a special hearing of the European Parliament. Borrell also spoke about the fateful decision that Brussels must make in relation to Russia, noting that these choices will determine the international undercurrents of power in this century. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti noted that the EU is likely to introduce personal sanctions so as not to affect economic relations amid the pandemic.
Earlier, some European politicians criticized Borrell. In their opinion, his visit to Moscow turned out to be a failure and damaged the reputation of the European Union. On February 7, upon his return from Moscow, the European diplomat wrote on his blog that Russia is not interested in improving relations with the EU. According to the EU diplomatic chief, his meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed Russia's distancing from Europe.
According to Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Ivan Timofeev, it was already clear before the visit that there would be no breakthroughs in relations with Brussels. "Borrell did not come with proposals, but with demands," the commentator told the newspaper. "The demands were typical: release Navalny and respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia also took a tough stance, and no new ideas were expressed at the meeting, so the visit did not bring about any fundamental changes," he added. At the same time, Timofeev noted that Borrel was discouraged from going, but he did so anyway, because he was convinced that dialogue with Russia was necessary.
Timofeev believes that European sanctions will indeed follow, but they will be individually pinpointed ones. Specifically, Russian officials who took part in the detention of Navalny and the suppression of protests will fall under visa restrictions. Such sanctions, the expert noted will not affect the economic ties between Russia and the EU. He assured that the likelihood that businesses will also come under sanctions is very small.
Izvestia: How Trump’s new impeachment trial could affect America
The impeachment trial of ex-President Donald Trump won’t bring the country political stability and is distracting the authorities from tackling real problems like reviving the economy and fighting the pandemic, according to political analysts interviewed by Izvestia. Despite the White House's hints to Congress that the trial would be out of place and at the wrong time, the procedure was nevertheless launched, the newspaper wrote. According to experts, it is driven by hatred of Donald Trump and the desire to eliminate him from US politics.
Despite the fact that impeachment after a person leaves office is obviously unconstitutional, the Democrats cannot hold back their desire to "isolate and throw Trump out of American political life," Director of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Garbuzov told Izvestia. "He remains a figure who can influentially mobilize voters. Democrats see it as a danger and are already thinking about the midterm Congressional elections in 2022 and the major [presidential] elections in 2024," he said.
According to the expert, Biden took the right position, somewhat avoiding the impeachment issue. Not only does all this distract the authorities and society from real problems, these moves could boomerang [on the Democrats], he added.
There is no complete unity among the Democrats on this issue, President of the Washington-based Center on Global Interests Nikolai Zlobin believes. The White House has repeatedly hinted that it is not interested in impeaching the former president, since this process will distract lawmakers from solving real problems in the economy and from the fight against coronavirus, the expert noted. "In the first 100 days of his presidency, Joe Biden definitely does not need to impeach Trump. But the Democrats have forces and people who are betting on this process, believing that this is part of their political career," Zlobin told Izvestia.
Kommersant: US eyes forming ‘Asian NATO’ to contain Beijing
The United States and its Indo-Pacific allies are stepping up efforts to form an alliance to contain China. The Japanese government advocated the early formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, the Quad), a full-fledged coalition, which includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, to ensure security in the Indo-Pacific region. According to Kommersant, an attempt to turn the Quad into an "Asian NATO" will become one of Washington's key regional projects, which will further exacerbate the struggle for leadership in the region between China and the United States.
Created in November 2017, the Quad was conceived as a coalition of US allies and partners as part of a security strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. Experts interviewed by Kommersant noted that after the new US administration took power, the effort to turn the Quad into an "Asian NATO" will become one of Washington's main Indo-Pacific projects, which will further aggravate the battle for leadership in the region between China and the United States. At the same time, experts noted that it will not be easy for the United States to implement this idea, and a lot will depend on China's relations with both the new White House and regional powers.
"There are serious obstacles to transforming the Quartet into a ‘Pacific NATO’. The countries of the Quartet have different views on allied relations with the United States. Japan and Australia are military and political allies of the United States, and India is not going to become an American ally, despite the expansion of US-Indian military and military-technical cooperation in recent years," Chief Researcher at the Institute for the US and Canada Vladimir Batyuk told Kommersant.
"The United States is trying to move towards institutionalizing QUAD and attracting new members to it, and China is using its unique role in the regional economy to undermine the creation of such an alliance," Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin said. "So far, development of the Quad mechanism is facing problems. However, China's active, ill-considered actions may tip the scales towards strengthening this emerging alliance," the expert told Kommersant.
Izvestia: EU might register Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in March
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is awaiting registration of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Europe. The fund has submitted the first package of documents to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the rolling review procedure. Processing these applications usually takes about eight weeks, so a decision can be made by the end of March. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the likelihood of Sputnik V getting Europe’s green light is high. Despite three registered vaccines available, Europe is facing a shortage.
The RDIF stressed that it is too early to talk about specific European countries that are interested in Sputnik V and possible exports of the jab. The fund also added that deliveries of Sputnik V to the EU from Russia will not begin until everyone in Russia is vaccinated, that is roughly May-June at the soonest.
"Despite three registered vaccines available, there is a shortage of these drugs in Europe. Additional capacity is needed for the numerous population of the European Union. Therefore, I believe that the Russian vaccine will be registered," said Pavel Volchkov who heads the genome engineering laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
The political aspect will undoubtedly play its role in promoting Russia’s vaccine in Europe, assures Georgy Asatryan, a Valdai Club political scientist. "Russia has many opponents in Europe, and all of them will try to block the registration of our Sputnik V vaccine, even though the Russian drug has already managed to prove its quality and effectiveness. Moscow also has friends in Europe who will promote our vaccine. Let's see who wins," the expert added.
Kommersant: Gazprom sees rising export prices
Gazprom has raised its forecast for the average price of supplies in 2021 to more than $200 per 1,000 cubic meters against the background of record growth in gas exports in January. At the end of December, the company budgeted $170 per 1,000 cubic meters. Analysts interviewed by Kommersant believe it is "somewhat reckless" to make forecasts based on one month, and recalled the risks of competition with LNG. Nevertheless, if Gazprom's expectations come true, then the company's revenue from gas exports may grow 1.7-fold in 2021 to $42.1 bln.
In 2020, due to the drop in demand amid the pandemic, Gazprom's exports to non-CIS countries declined by about 10% year-on-year to 179.3 bln cubic meters of gas. In some months, the company supplied gas at a loss at a price below $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Maria Belova from Vygon Consulting believes that it is somewhat imprudent to focus only on January in predicting the average annual price, which, thanks to the abnormal cold weather in Europe, displayed record-breaking prices. But Gazprom's optimism is supported by the half-empty gas storage facilities and steadily rising oil prices, which will also have had a positive effect on Gazprom's contract prices. Moreover, the estimate of $200 per 1,000 cubic meters is broadly in line with the average annual TTF price in 2021.
According to Belova's calculations, if the average annual export price of Gazprom in 2021 reaches $200 per 1,000 cubic meters, and supplies abroad go to about 210 bln cubic meters, then revenue will increase 1.7-fold to $42.1 bln.
Competition with LNG may put Gazprom's expectations in question, says Sergey Kapitonov, an analyst at the Skolkovo Energy Center at the Moscow School of Management. In addition, the expert recalls that the supply of LNG from US plants will grow this year, and "whether the Asian markets will absorb new volumes is still in question."