Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 24, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: UK policy line harsher on Moscow than on Beijing
The United Kingdom has once again stated that Russia continues to pose the greatest threat to European security. The wording comes from the British Defense Ministry’s report, which will shape London’s policies over the next five years. The document also confirms the UK’s plans to modernize and beef up its nuclear stockpile, Izvestia writes.
The report mentions Russia 22 times, and only in negative terms as London believes Moscow is the biggest security threat. A thing to note is that the report uses different rhetoric towards China. According to the document, which mentions China 18 times, London views Beijing as a complex systemic challenge.
Experts attribute the difference in tone to the fact that Russia is the usual and convenient "adversary" for any country that seeks to justify its defense spending, while raising tensions with China benefits no one.
"Russia is strong in military terms and is not apologetic about it. Again, traditionally, it is ready to use military force to protect its interests. And clearly, these interests aren’t in line with the plans that the UK has declared," said Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. "China is also a challenge, but London’s relations with Beijing are different, particularly in the economic and financial field. This is why it seems the United Kingdom is not ready for a confrontation just yet," he added.
The United Kingdom is unwilling to complicate its economic ties with an important and well-heeled partner. At the same time, the country seeks to show the United States, its closest ally, that London shares its concern about Beijing's growing strength, Russian International Affairs Council expert Alexander Yermakov pointed out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Minsk, Washington continue to communicate, with hard-hitting dialogue at times
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei received a call from the US Department of State, demanding that Minsk release political prisoners and engage in dialogue with its opponents. The Belarusian authorities slammed the move as an attempt to influence the activities of the country’s law enforcement and judicial system, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Given the recent statements by Belarusian opposition figurehead, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, about securing international support from her allies in order to force Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko into talks, some analysts concluded that the phone call indicated Washington's determination to take a more active position towards the authorities in Minsk. However, political scientist Valery Karbalevish believes that things aren't that simple.
Washington continues to support democratic changes in Belarus but it is too early to say that the the Biden administration has set out a strategy towards Minsk, the expert pointed out. "Then US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called Lukashenko last fall. His main goal was to ensure the release of Vitaly Shklyarov, the husband of a State Department employee. This time, it is about Igor Losik, a blogger and an employee of the US-sponsored Radio Liberty," Karbalevich explained. Pompeo’s phone call produced results and Shklyarov was released, he added.
Also, remarkably, a moratorium on US economic sanctions against Belarus’ Belneftekhim expires in April. Experts expect that the moratorium will be lifted and that the sanctions will take effect. Karbalevich emphasized that it would require no special decisions.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko said on Tuesday that "independence is an expensive thing but none of you will probably be willing to sell yourselves and merge with another country." "Perhaps, this is Lukashenko’s response both to Russia and the West," the commentator noted.
Izvestia: EU to review Sputnik V jab despite having ‘absolutely no need’ for it
European Medicines Agency (EMA) experts will arrive in Russia on APril 10 in order to review data on Russia's Sputink V coronavirus vaccine. One of the regulator's high-ranking officials announced the visit the next day after an EU commissioner had stated that Europe had "absolutely no need" for the Russian inoculation.
However, experts from Italy, the first EU member state to be willing to launch production of Sputnik V told Izvestia that interest in the vaccine was still there.
The vaccine's developer - Russia's Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology - made it clear that such visits were standard practice for all countries that purchased Sputnik V. "A lot of trips were made at the end of last year. Experts from India, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil came here. Slovaks, Serbs and all those whose countries had approved the vaccine also came on fact-finding visits," an institute spokesperson said.
The Italian authorities had stepped up their activities concerning Sputnik V even before news broke about the visit by the EMA’s experts to Russia. On March 9, Adienne Pharma Biotech, a Italian-Swiss company, became the first in the EU to sign an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund for the production of the vaccine at its facility in Italy’s Lombardy region. Alessio D’Amato, health minister of Italy’s Lazio region said that his province might also launch vaccine production. Head of Italy’s Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases Francesco Vaia, in turn, announced that the institute and the Gamaleya center would soon sign a memorandum on cooperation to study the Russian vaccine’s effectiveness.
Rome is genuinely enthusiastic about Sputnik V, Director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research Guiseppe Remuzzi told Izvestia.
Media: Looming sanctions drive Russia's ruble down
The Russian currency has dropped to 76 rubles against the dollar after six weeks of trading above that level. The national currency is significantly weakening due to the growing sanctions pressure and a decline in oil prices stemming from new lockdowns in Europe, Kommersant writes.
The main reason behind the selloff of Russian assets is the geopolitical situation, which began to deteriorate last Wednesday following US President Joe Biden's disparaging remarks about Russia and its president.
"Tensions are rising, sending investor uncertainty up and making investors reduce their ruble assets," Financial Market Department at Russky Standart bank Maxim Timoshenko pointed out.
Heightened anxiety among international investors also comes from fears of a third coronavirus wave in Europe. "The coronavirus situation has worsened in other regions of the world as well. This is why Brent crude prices have fallen by more than 4%," Aricapital investment strategist Sergei Suverov noted.
Possible obstacles in resolving pandemic-related issues, including slower vaccination campaigns and new coronavirus strains capable of resisting vaccines, continue to pose serious risks to all markets, BCS expert Dmitry Babin told Izvestia. According to him, increasing government bond yields are also dangerous. Central banks could trigger another crisis by tightening their monetary policy before the economy enters the path of steady self-sustained growth, the expert emphasized.
Izvestia: Water, water everywhere but not enough for the world to drink
Two bln people on Earth don't have direct access to water and the situation is expected to deteriorate by 2030, UNESCO said in its new report on global water resources. Experts interviewed by Izvestia agree that the situation requires attention.
Freshwater ecosystems cover only one percent of the Earth’s surface, Coordinator for Freshwater Ecosystem Conservation at WWF Russia Oksana Nikitina pointed out. "It’s not easy to preserve and recover rivers, lakes and other sources of fresh water but it is possible, and it is in our power and in our interest to do it. Governments need to take consistent action, businesses need to make responsible decisions and each and everyone of us needs to save water," she said.
Water shortages stem from various reasons across the world, Professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration's Department of State Economic Regulation Olga Malikova noted. "There are regions that are affected by limited access to water. These include, for instance, some of the Central Asian countries. India, in contrast, does not lack water in general but lacks clean water," she specified. In the expert’s view, the issue could partially be resolved through the introduction of stricter rules for economic activities along rivers.
In search of water, people may start moving to more liveable areas, which can trigger armed conflicts, a rise in unemployment and crime, as well as serious changes in the world’s social and economic order, National Environment Corps coordinator Fedor Trusov emphasized. According to him, the best way to improve the situation "is to ensure the efficient use of water on a national level." "It is not about sporadic decrees, fines and business inspections but about efforts to create an entire system," Trusov stressed.