Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, July 8th, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: US decides to review sanctions policy by the end of summer
The Biden administration is planning to review its sanctions policy by the end of summer. The White House has concluded that Donald Trump’s restrictions achieved just short-term goals but did not change the behavior of countries targeted by these sanctions. As a result, the value of this tool is in question. Joe Biden’s new strategy implies joint actions with Washington’s allies, and giving up large-scale campaigns on exerting pressure, Izvestia writes.
The US sets the goal of making restrictions more targeted, surgical, and affecting certain individuals and structures, said Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov. "The US is trying to impose sanctions so that they do not inflict serious collateral damage on the US economy. Obviously, it is expected that the level of cooperation with European allies will increase," the expert said.
Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Suslov believes that hypothetically this is good for Moscow because the effect of anti-Russian sanctions will be reduced. "They create a general toxic environment around the one targeted by sanctions, and impede not only US cooperation with the target of this sanctions, but also for everyone," he noted.
According to Kortunov, on the one hand, ‘smart’ sanctions are better for Russia since they are not as destructive as sectoral ones. "But on the other hand, for certain officials and companies they could come as an unpleasant surprise. One should be ready for them. The policy of using sanctions won’t go away from US practice for a very long time," he pointed out.
It is not ruled out that the Biden administration’s new approach to the sanctions strategy may reduce economic pressure on Iran, the newspaper said. As for China, Biden’s policy differs from that pursued by Donald Trump. Sofia Melnichuk, an expert on China, notes that it has "another wrapping". The new administration is more diplomatic and acts with reserve, without making any harsh statements and flagrant claims. However, the US is unlikely to give up Trump’s policy as China is the most significant threat to the US, and the American elite shares this stance on this issue.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Struggle for Syrian cross-border aid channels could be costly for Russia
A two-day meeting in the Astana format on Syria wrapped up in Kazakhstan’s capital of Nur-Sultan on July 8. One of key issues at the talks between Russia, Turkey, and Iran as well as observers from Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, was a mechanism of cross-border aid for Syria and the UN mandate expiring this month. Washington is demanding that Moscow agree to an extension of the mandate, but Russia is fully opposed, insisting that this mechanism has lost its relevance. Experts believe that Moscow could pay a price for its refusal to come to terms.
Russian President’s Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev confirmed in the capital of Kazakhstan that Moscow insists that this mechanism should be scrapped. He recalled that it was introduced as a temporary measure in 2014, when Damascus neither controlled border crossings nor most of its borders. "Now, as it seems to us, this is outdated, and this mechanism has outlived its usefulness." He believes there is the need now to ensure the mechanism’s normal activity through the legitimate authorities in Damascus, stressing that all the conditions for this exist.
"A possible Russian veto on providing cross-border aid through the last remaining crossing is topic number one in Syria," said Anton Mardasov, a researcher at the Washington-based Middle East Institute (MEI) and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. A major question is whether Moscow is calculating all the disadvantages for itself.
According to the analyst, on the one hand, there is a game aimed at weakening Idlib and monopolizing assistance by Damascus. "One the other hand, this concerns relations with Turkey, which mostly viewed the UN supplies to the northeast as a tool of strengthening Kurdish separatism but now is presented with another reason for solidarity with the US."
Meanwhile, the veto on assistance to millions of civilians is a push for UN-linked NGOs to find other legal grounds for their work, including on-site medical aid, he pointed out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Taliban’s ascent in Afghanistan after US pullout poses ominous threat to Russia and CIS
The US and NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is due to be completed by September 11, will trigger a full-scale power shift in the country within several months. A new center of radical Islamism may emerge on this vast territory in Central Asia, which will involve not only militants from the Taliban (outlawed in Russia), but other armed groups such as the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) and Al-Qaeda (outlawed in Russia). The authorities in Kabul are feverishly searching for ways to counter the attacks by radical Islamists, military expert, retired Colonel Shamil Gareev writes in an article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The NATO troop pullout lays the groundwork for the gradual movement of IS, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from the Middle East Region to Afghanistan and some believe this is a strategic US plot. This approach by pro-Turkish circles has been already tested in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Nagorno-Karabakh. There are grounds to believe that the US will create conditions for recruiting and reviving ethnic terror groups, which are able to destabilize the situation in Central Asia in order to counter Russian influence in the region. According to some estimates, the Middle East militants include several thousand Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz nationals, who were recruited in the CIS and trained as terrorists in Middle Eastern centers. One element of the terrorists’ propaganda and sabotage efforts could be stirring up anti-Russian sentiment, especially in Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base.
Will Russia and its allies be able to respond to this challenge? At first, it is noteworthy that the Central Asian states often prefer to act on their own. These different approaches to cooperation in the fields of security and collective response to threats could encourage radical military groups to test out the borders of the Central Asian countries. The latter are now searching for a reliable ally, who will help ensure their security and sovereignty, and are looking both at Russia and the US.
Moscow and Central Asian nations should prepare for possible aggressive steps by the Taliban, the expert says.
Izvestia: Cryptocurrency can help Russia overcome Western sanctions
El Salvador’s move to officially classify bitcoin as its legal currency has been criticized by some economists. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that this could be viewed as an experiment, and its results could help other countries, including Russia, define their policy on cryptocurrency.
Some experts believe that it’s incorrect to be afraid of risks linked to allowing cryptocurrency transactions along with traditional fiat currency. However, dangers of using cryptocurrency as a payment tool for citizens still exist. Tatyana Maximenko, the official spokesperson for the Garantex cryptocurrency exchange, notes that poor financial awareness of the population around the world does not allow many regulators to legalize cryptocurrency transactions. She also points out that the level of bitcoin’s technical safety bears huge risks.
However, despite all the risks, cryptocurrency has many advantages over traditional cash. Maximenko believes that its legalization will inevitably boost trade and money turnover between the countries, which recognize such transactions. Besides, the use of such payment tools reduces risks linked to international sanctions, and this is specifically relevant for Russia. "In this sense, this does not concern transactions directly related to companies included in the sanctions lists."
In its turn, the Bank of Russia announced plans in early July to carry out research on systemic risks of investments in cryptocurrency for individuals and legal entities. This endeavor will involve 15 Russian banks, including major financial institutions. However, experts questioned by Izvestia do not expect any fundamental changes in the regulator’s stance on digital assets. "I would not call the Russian Central Bank’s position cautious - it is blatantly hostile. It’s obvious that the Russian Central Bank is more interested in the digital ruble, which they will then try to promote as transnational currency in the Eurasian Economic Union’s countries," Maximenko said.
Kommersant: Russia to reach herd immunity if 80% of citizens get anti-bodies
Russia’s government has set a new target on the path towards achieving herd immunity against COVID-19: now up to 80-90% of citizens should get anti-bodies versus 60% as was believed earlier. Besides the vaccinated Russians this will include those, who survived the infection, as well as revaccinated and immunized citizens, foreigners and individuals without citizenship staying in Russia. Experts interviewed by Kommersant warn that the new target is unlikely to be achieved by the end of this year amid the lack of production facilities and the public’s reluctance to get jabs.
According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, as of July 7 just 15% of citizens, or 18.5 mln people, have received both doses of the vaccine. Meanwhile, over the past week the vaccination pace in Russia increased by more than 1.8 times on average. The vaccination drive has been mostly successful in Chechnya, Moscow, the Moscow Region, the Krasnodar Region, the Tula, Lipetsk, Belgorod, Kemerovo and Sakhalin Regions.
Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist and professor at Rutgers University and Skoltech, notes that the targets of 60% and 80% for Russia are such a remote prospect that there is almost no difference between them. "There is the need to immunize as many people as possible on short notice regardless of their social and migration status. This will certainly slow down the epidemic."
According to Evgeny Timakov, a specialist in infectious diseases and chief doctor at Lider medicine, immunizing 60% of employed and socially active citizens in Russia is "a more real task". Another problem is the lack of drugs in the country, experts note.
Severinov says that herd immunity needs to be reached not in just one country or a continent. A very low vaccination level in many poor and densely-populated African countries will pose a problem such as constantly emerging new variants of virus, which will be able to overcome the protection created by vaccines, he warned. The only chance to defeat the pandemic and return to normal life is vaccination cooperation between the countries, the expert stressed.