© Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, September 15th, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: SCO members’ views vary on Afghanistan
Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe will host the summits of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on September 16-17. The leaders will particularly discuss the situation in Afghanistan. SCO countries view the developments in the war-ravaged country differently. For instance, China and India have opposed positions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
The SCO will mark its 20th anniversary by granting membership to Iran who will become the ninth member state. "SCO accession will provide Iran with additional diplomatic arguments in terms of relations with the West, particularly, in talks on its nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions," Alexander Knyazev, an expert on Central Asia, pointed out. "Besides, the organization offers the opportunity to build economic cooperation with other member states. It’s also possible that Tehran will try to promote its non-economic initiatives," Knyazev added.
As an important regional player, Iran can influence decisions related to Kabul. Tehran’s position on the Afghan issue is similar to that of Moscow’s and even tougher. Moscow is not content with what the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) have done in creating an interim government. However, while Russia is just watching the situation, Tehran is not shying away from making tough statements. This is why it can influence the position of SCO countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who have strongly divergent positions on Afghanistan, will not visit Dushanbe, but rather participate in the meeting via video link in order to avoid a standoff. The difference in their positions is that China is willing to cooperate with the new Kabul government, while India is strongly against it and insists on the creation of an inclusive cabinet. Other members of the organization are also divided over Afghanistan. Islamabad, Tashkent and Nur-Sultan share Beijing’s views, while Dushanbe’s attitude to Kabul is similar to New Delhi’s.
According to Knyazev, over the past 20 years, the SCO has become a convenient platform for discussing various problems. However, the decisions that the organization makes aren’t binding for its members.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Assad turns to Kremlin as last hope
The talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which took place in Moscow, came as a surprise for observers. The meeting had not been announced, and Assad’s previous visit to Russia took place in 2015. The two heads of state touched upon Syria’s post-war reconstruction, as well as on the issue of foreign military presence. Experts believe, however, that the main reason for the meeting was that the parties seek to ease the burden of Western sanctions on Damascus, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The need to ease Western restrictions arose particularly because regional players wish to implement a project to deliver Egyptian gas to Lebanon. The idea is to turn Syria into a transit country. However, the project requires a significant easing of US sanctions.
According to Russian International Affairs Council expert Anton Mardasov, it was crucial that Assad visited Moscow shortly before UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen’s trip to Istanbul and consultations between Russian and US delegations, set to take place in Geneva in the coming days.
"As far as I understand, the bargaining is not so much about resuming the Geneva talks that the Syrian regime wants to stall and even move to Damascus, but about a compromise on easing sanctions in order to boost trade with Jordan and discuss the idea of delivering gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan - a very complicated project, in my opinion," Mardasov noted, commenting on efforts to step up talks on the Syria issue.
According to the analyst, all of this is important in terms of reaching some agreement with the Biden administration, "in order to draw boundaries of what is allowed."
Vedomosti: Europe's rising energy prices start to affect economy
Europe's gas prices continue to dramatically increase, having passed the $800 per 1,000 cubic meter mark. The trend for a spike in prices has been going on since late August, Vedomosti notes.
One of the culprits behind the crisis is unstable renewable energy production. The lack of wind that northern Europe has been facing for several weeks reduced the share of wind power stations in the United Kingdom’s energy production, driving the authorities to restart the West Burton A coal power plant. Similar problems have emerged across the Atlantic. According to media reports, California said it could face power shortages because an ongoing drought had reduced hydropower generation, along with forest fires posing danger to power lines delivering electricity from other US states.
"The current situation points to issues related to the shift to renewable energy sources. Their stability is low at the moment, which results in spikes in gas demand, as well as in electricity and fuel price hikes, said Corporate and ESG Ratings Managing Director at the Expert RA rating agency Pavel Mitrofanov. According to him, the European Union is unlikely to abandon its environmental priorities in the near future, which will lead to regular "price shocks during times of power shortages."
Natural Resources Senior Director at Fitch Ratings Dmitry Marinchenko expects rising gas and electricity prices to negatively affect energy-consuming industries, including the steel and petrochemistry industries, where gas is used as feedstock. Besides, a price boom may also have a negative impact on macroeconomic indicators, including inflation, consumer demand and economic growth rates.
Much will depend on how cold the next winter will be and on whether Russia’s gas giant Gazprom will step up gas sales on the spot market. So far, it seems that Gazprom is in no hurry to increase supplies.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon seeks dialogue with Chinese military
US Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten has recently stated that the United States and China needed to establish dialogue because a war with China, as well as with Russia, would be a disaster. He added that China was rapidly upgrading its nuclear forces, and emphasized the need to engage Beijing in talks on nuclear arms limitation, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
According to Alexander Lukin, who heads the International Affairs Department at the Higher School of Economics, "many in the US, including those close to the administration in Washington, have been highlighting the need to make agreements with Russia and China or at least with one of the two countries in order to use it against the other."
"However, there have been no specific proposals. The reason is that from the US point of view, making an agreement means that your partners should do what you want them to," the analyst added. "Military issues are a different thing. It seems that some agreements could be made when there is no consensus in other fields. But the problem is that China doesn’t feel like it. China is willing to make agreements with the US on economic issues. The Chinese believe that their army is getting stronger and they should first catch up with the US on some tracks and then make agreements," Lukin explained.
"China has not revealed the number of nuclear warheads that it has. Beijing claims that the number is low and as long as Russia and the United States don’t reduce their arsenals to a very low level, China will not engage in talks," the expert noted.
It’s also difficult to talk about other military issues. For instance, Beijing claims part of the South China Sea, while the US does not recognize it as Chinese. "This is why, in my view, a fundamental agreement is impossible. Perhaps, officials from the Biden administration are discussing the China issue but there are no signs yet that their policy is changing," the expert concluded.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: High aluminium prices pose danger to producers and consumers
Global aluminium prices continue to grow following the recent coup in Geneva, and now exceed the $3,000 per tonne mark on the London Metal Exchange for the first time since July 2008. Experts say that the high prices threaten both industries and consumers, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.
Aluminium prices have risen by 40% since the beginning of the year. The highest increase was recorded in September after news emerged about a military coup in Guinea, an African country that accounts for about 23% of the global output of bauxite ore, the main raw material for the production of aluminium.
According to Finam analyst Alexei Kalachev, it is the aircraft industry, as well as manufacturers of structural units and electrical devices, that high aluminium costs threaten the most. "Rising aluminium prices will increase production costs. Where possible, producers will try to make consumers pay for their expenses," the analyst said.
Aluminium is also widely used for the production of foil packaging and cans. Higher packaging costs will eventually lead to a rise in food and beverage prices, the expert warned.
According to Kalachev, Russia is unlikely to face aluminum shortages. The production capacity of the market’s major player - Rusal - significantly exceeds domestic demand, so the company exports more than 70% of its production. However, Russia imports nearly 70% of its feedstock for the production of aluminium, mostly from Guinea.