Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 26, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: EU leaders focus on pandemic, Biden rather than ‘Russian strategy’
The first day of the EU summit ended in Brussels, where the leaders were to determine a new strategy towards Russia. However, due to the coming wave of COVID-19 in Europe, the strategic discussion on this topic was postponed until June 2021, when the next, already personal meeting will take place. Experts told Izvestia, the discussion could have been postponed also because the EU does not have a shared standpoint on this issue. In the meantime, European leaders focused on fighting coronavirus and communicating with their US counterpart.
"All 27 countries must agree on the language that can form the basis of this strategy. It is very difficult to do this, and not only in relation to Russia. The European Union does not have a unified position on many issues," Director of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov explained to Izvestia. "Mogherini’s Five Principles are a rare example of any consensus in the EU. Now any talk about Russia shows different approaches. The fact that the adoption of the document was put off once again suggests that this is an important matter. Apparently, in the coming months, the countries will try to come to an agreement in order to publish a document in the summer. It is difficult to say whether it will succeed or not," the expert added.
At the same time, at the current summit, President of the European Council Charles Michel informed his colleagues about his conversation with Vladimir Putin on March 22. The public presentation of this conversation on both sides has traditionally been different. The Kremlin, in turn, said that Putin gave an assessment of the unsatisfactory state of Russian-EU relations, which has developed due to the non-constructive, sometimes confrontational line of its partners. At the same time, Russia is ready to return to normal, depoliticized communication.
On one point, the heads of the EU and Russia agreed unequivocally on one thing - relations between Brussels and Moscow are at record lows, Izvestia writes. In fact, so are Russia's ties with the United States. US President Joe Biden joined the summit later in the day. However, the topic of his conversation was not the future of Western-Russian contacts, but on how to rehabilitate his own Transatlantic ties.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Seoul, alarmed by Pyongyang missiles, hopes for Moscow’s aid
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong. They confirmed that South Korea is becoming an important partner for Russia in the Asia-Pacific region. The final phase of Lavrov's Asia tour took place as North Korea demonstrated its military power. Pyongyang tested ballistic missiles in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, North Korea has thereby shown that it will not yield to US pressure.
The top diplomats sought to shine a positive light on the prospects of relations between the two states. Lavrov said that they are expanding in all areas, South Korea is even setting up the production of the Sputnik V vaccine. Chung Eui-yong added that despite the pandemic, Russia and South Korea are moving together on the path to peace and prosperity. However, it was difficult to hide the concern that Seoul and Moscow feel about the extremely unstable situation on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul’s foreign minister expressed angst and called on North Korea to honor its commitment to maintaining peace. Lavrov stressed the need to resume negotiations on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The most acute reaction came from Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the launches pose a threat to the peace and security of Japan and the entire region.
In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Chairman of the Council of the Russian Association of Koreans Moisei Kim said: "South Koreans want Lavrov to tell Putin that Seoul is looking forward to his visit this year. As for North Korea, now it is not reacting so sharply to the rapprochement between Russia and South Korea. There is some kind of jealousy. But there is no reason to ‘foul things up’. Moreover, the economic situation in the North is difficult. The main thing for them now is to overcome these difficulties."
Kommersant: Vessel wedged in Suez Canal hinders Russian gas supplies
An unprecedented, massive shipping traffic jam in the Suez Canal has just slightly affected the supply of Russian oil, but may affect liquefied gas. Together with dozens of other vessels on the approaches to the world’s busiest waterway, three LNG tankers serving Novatek cargo - Yamal Spirit, Clean Horizon, and Yenisei River - were blocked. The ships have been waiting for the second day to pass through the canal, which has been paralyzed by the gigantic container ship Ever Given that got wedged sideways in the waterway. There are also four tankers with oil shipped from Novorossiysk, mainly of Kazakhstani origin stuck at the entrance to the canal. According to analysts interviewed by Kommersant, the situation will not have a critical impact on oil markets, but a surge in spot gas prices is possible.
According to analysts from Argus, the situation will not impact shipments of the Russian Urals grade in any way, since Urals supplies to Asia through the canal are rare. However, market participants admit that it may lead to an increase in the price of the Urals oil on the European market since the supply of medium-heavy oil from the Middle East is interrupted.
Experts told Kommersant that tanker delays will raise transport costs, but the amount will depend on when Ever Given moves. In any case, according to experts, an increase in freight rates should be expected. In addition, according to one of Kommersant’s sources, in this case, buyers are not inclined to attribute the delay of goods to force majeure, which can lead to fines for delayed deliveries.
Dmitry Marinchenko from Fitch believes that the situation will not have a critical impact on the oil market, since there are reserves in almost any region. However, the LNG market is less flexible and more expensive to transport, so spot gas prices could rise temporarily if the problem is not quickly resolved.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ankara ceding to Beijing in struggle for influence over former USSR countries
Turkey’s financial crisis could complicate Erdogan’s expansion into the republics of former Soviet Central Asia. The instability of the Turkish lira and the shakeup in the financial leadership may temporarily distract Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s focus from his favorite project - the unification of the Turkic peoples under the Turkish flag, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. At least the planned personal meeting with other leaders of the Turkic Council has been postponed for the time being.
According to experts, China is the main competitor to Turkish expansion in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Both Beijing and Ankara are showing obvious interest in a region with more than 200 mln young people and a combined GDP of $2 trillion.
"Turkey has a huge advantage in this region precisely through the Turkic Council and its members," Director of Center for the Study of Modern Turkey and Russian-Turkish Relations at St. Petersburg State University Apollinaria Avrutina told the newspaper. At the same time, according to the expert, Russia often lags behind, because in this region its instruments of "soft power" are often inferior to those of the United States, Turkey, and China.
"The Turkish president grasps the fragility of the economic situation in the country and skillfully maneuvers between competing blocs, choosing the most "suitable" allies based on the current balance of power," President of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Vitaly Mankevich told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
"Russia continues to remain the largest economic partner for these countries and the military-political guarantor of their stability, which is enshrined in the EAEU and CSTO Treaties," Director of the Center for Modernization Problems at RANEPA Vilen Vardapetyan told the newspaper. According to the expert, "Russia, not forgetting about political and economic competition and the need to protect its interests, is building a balanced partner policy with both China and Turkey, and also does not allow the possibility of their excessive expansion in neighboring countries".
Izvestia: Exports of Russian Sputnik V vaccine this year may exceed $1 bln
Sputnik V’s export sales by the end of the year will amount up to $1 bln, according to drug manufacturers - CEOs of Biocad Dmitry Morozov and CEO of R-Pharm Alexey Repik told Izvestia. According to the Federal Customs Service, in January 2021, exports in the category "Other vaccines for humans" (this group, according to experts, includes Sputnik V) amounted to $14 mln, which is 13 times higher than a year earlier. However, according to the manufacturers, so far the volume of supplies is rather modest since now the capacities are being used for the needs of the domestic market.
"In April-May, the key focus will still be to provide for our own [vaccination] calendar, by the end of spring it will be possible to more actively supply Sputnik V to foreign markets. By the end of the summer, the amount of exports will surpass the $1 bln mark," Head of R-Pharm Alexey Repik told the newspaper.
Dmitry Morozov, CEO of Biocad, which also produces Sputnik V, is more restrained in his forecasts. According to his estimates, by the end of the year, it will be possible to increase exports to "several hundred million dollars."
First, the needs of the domestic market should be fulfilled, then large-scale export deliveries will begin, Development Director of analytical company RNC Pharma Nikolay Bespalov believes. According to the expert's forecasts, the estimate of the amount of Sputnik V's sales abroad at $1 bln looks quite realistic.
Export figures, however, are already showing growth. According to the Federal Customs Service, in December 2020 (this month, foreign regulators began to register Sputnik V), sales in the customs category "Other vaccines for humans" amounted to $11.5 mln, which is more than double the figure for 2019.