© Maxim Guchek/BelTA/TASS
Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, September 2nd, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Lukashenko postpones integration with Russia
In the past 24 hours, Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Semashko’s assertion on the complete readiness of Minsk and Moscow to sign the much-talked-about integration programs was refuted twice. As a result, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had to present his own version of the events. Experts think that the allies are involved in intensive bargaining.
On Wednesday, he told journalists that he was going to discuss these programs with Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 9, and, if they are approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and the Supreme State Council, they would be finalized by the end of the year. This contradicted the earlier claim of the Belarusian ambassador that the programs, except for one, were ready to be signed. Earlier, the embassy refuted the ambassador’s statement saying that the journalists misinterpreted his remarks.
"One of the reasons for this refuting scandal is that, from all appearances, those roadmaps are not quite ready," political scientist Valery Karbalevich suggested in a conversation with the newspaper. "This is not just about gas prices. It seems that there are other arguable issues," the expert thinks.
Lukashenko asserted that Belarus won’t lose its sovereignty. "This is very profitable for Belarus economically, in all aspects. This is also very beneficial for Russia. Russia will clearly understand what Belarus is for them and what role in various aspects Belarus can play for Russia itself," he explained. Experts don’t agree with the Belarusian leader’s evaluations.
"Undoubtedly, the position of Belarus today is more vulnerable than in 2019. We see how Belarus is giving up increasingly more of its sovereignty to Russia. We are talking about redirecting transit freights from Baltic ports to the Russian ones (and a while before sanctions), about the increased Russian military presence on Belarusian soil," Karbalevich noted. At the same time, "we are not talking about a formal and complete liquidation of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence, and its unification with Russia," he thinks. "Besides, it is possible to sign anything and then not implement it, which is a very common thing in Belarusian-Russian relations, especially on both sides," the expert added.
Izvestia: How much money is Washington willing to give Kiev?
The September 1 meeting between the Ukrainian and US leaders in Washington resulted in a joint statement. The main outcomes include another installment of financial aid, a deal on a strategic defense partnership until 2026, cooperation on space endeavors and an approval by the US of a new "plan of Ukraine’s transformation."
"As Ukraine expected, the US expressed their negative attitude towards Nord Stream 2. Kiev was also hoping for some promises on NATO participation. The minimal program which, I think, will be fulfilled, is the re-election mandate for [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky. Because Ukraine, essentially, is being externally governed by the US, and re-election is hardly possible without Washington’s direct approval. Most likely, Zelensky will attain it, because there is no clear alternative - he is no worse and no better than others. The minimal program will be fulfilled, the maximal - hardly. After the defeat in Afghanistan it would be suicidal for the US to get involved in any radical things, and the Americans fully understand this," Associate Professor of the Department of Political Theory at MGIMO Kirill Koktysh noted.
On August 31, Zelensky visited the Department of Energy, the Pentagon, the Department of State, the World Bank and even NASA where he signed a number of documents, including a memorandum on the construction of a nuclear power station costing up to $30 bln; a strategic defense partnership agreement until 2026 (earlier the US approved a new package of military aid to Ukraine to the tune of $60 mln), which also involved mutually "ensuring security in the Black Sea"; and a memorandum of understanding on safe space flights. One of the most significant deals turned out to be a $3 bln aid package which the US Export-Import Bank will provide to Ukraine within the framework of the memorandum on mutual understanding.
"The signed agreements only radically increase the dependence on the United States in such spheres as energy. The same goes for space," Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky thinks. "However, this will help score some PR points. Quality-wise, the relations of the countries won’t change in any way - this is just another step within the framework of the US external management of the key branches of Ukraine’s economy," he explained.
"The inked agreements indicate how intensive work on preparing for the visit was. One shouldn’t shrug it off or consider it insignificant because a number of documents directly influence Russia’s national security," Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov told the newspaper. "The Black Sea cooperation [deal] is one of the principal issues where Ukraine and the US will pressure Russia together. The agreement on $3 bln in aid is also important to Kiev," he added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: What awaits Afghanistan as the country’s new masters set up incoming government
The Taliban radical movement (outlawed in Russia) has completed forming Afghanistan’s new government and is expected to present it as early as Friday. According to news agencies citing Taliban sources, the government will not include any members of the former administration. Regardless of its make-up, the government should be recognized by the global community. It is vitally important since more than 80% of the country’s budget depends on foreign aid. That being said, on August 24, the World Bank suspended Afghanistan’s funding citing concerns over the situation of women in that country. As a result of the suspension of foreign aid, destructive consequences and a new humanitarian crisis loom over Afghanistan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Taliban needs to earn international recognition and support. The US will judge the Taliban on its actions, providing they ensure freedom of movement and respect for the fundamental rights of Afghans, including women and ethnic groups, as well as those who previously worked for other countries. With that in mind, the general reaction of the international community is wary.
Russia is not in a hurry either, while avoiding harsh words regarding the Taliban. According to Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, there is no way the Taliban can be removed from the list of terrorists before a decision by the UN Security Council. "As for recognition, we are in no rush. We will see how the regime acts," he said. At the same time, Moscow intends to form normal relations with Afghanistan’s new leadership based on its seven-year-long experience of contacts with the Taliban.
Kommersant: OPEC+ retains production growth plans
The results of a ministerial meeting by OPEC+ countries were not unexpected - it confirmed the mid-July decision on a monthly production growth of 400,000 barrels per day. The potential risks due to the pandemic were deemed not serious enough. According to experts, the participants of the deal are wary of sudden moves, concerned over the fluctuation of oil prices.
The increase in production will be counted from August and will last until the current restrictions of 5.8 mln barrels per day compared to the October 2018 level are exhausted (with the exception of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia whose base level is calculated separately).
Analyst at Gazprombank’s Center for Economic Forecasting Dmitry Pigarev notes that, considering the complex nature of the previous OPEC+ talks, one could hardly expect new decisions from the deal’s participants. He also spotlighted the risks related to the prospects of restoring demand and possible new epidemiological restrictions. According to the expert, oil prices are currently at a comfortable level for many market players and are likely to remain there.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Turkey replaces China as main purchaser of Russian food
China has yielded its position as the main importer of Russian food products, as it stopped buying Russian fish and decreased its purchases of Russian poultry. At the end of August, Turkey took the lead in terms of deliveries of Russian food products, having stepped up purchases of Russian grain and sunflower oil.
As of August 29, Russia delivered almost $2.5 bln worth of food products to Turkey. It is followed by the EU where Russia delivered products to the tune of $2.36 bln, mostly involving fish, animal feed stuff, oil products and grain, with China dropping to third place with $2.3 bln in imports of Russian food products, though last year it was leading with over $4 bln in purchases and the gap is widening.
According to Anatoly Tikhonov of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), this change in the top three exporters is logical. Turkey is Russia’s strategic partner not only in food product supplies but also in gas supplies there and to southern Europe, so despite periodic political and economic differences, experts forecast that exports to Turkey will grow.
The decrease in supplies of Russian food products to China is most likely related to the closure of borders for Russian fish caused by the coronavirus restrictions. However, an alternative opinion exists that China might want to pressure Russia in order to obtain permission to fish for pollock in Russian waters, according to the Pollockonomics report of the British Planet Tracker. Tikhonov noted that China remains a prospective market for Russian food products, while Russia is a newcomer to the large-scale trade with this country and needs time to get a grasp of it and become an irreplaceable trade partner.