© Sergei Malgavko/TASS
Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, September 23rd, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Taliban seek to improve their image
Following their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) have abandoned their initial prohibition on female education, one of their key ideas. Besides, Amir Khan Muttaqi, appointed as foreign minister in the Taliban government, sent a message to the United Nations, asking for a representative of the self-proclaimed Emirate of Afghanistan to be allowed to speak at the UN General Assembly. However, since the world has not recognized the Taliban government, the answer will be no, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
The Taliban's policy towards women is far from being consistent. For instance, they allowed women to attend university classes but in late August prohibited them from going out, saying that many of the movement's members did not know how to treat women properly. Women were later temporarily barred from working and girls were deprived of the opportunity to go to school. Now, women whose job can be done by men have been ordered to stay at home.
Experts believe, however, that the movement won’t set up a regime as harsh as the Taliban's first-time rule. One of the reasons is that China is making its economic interests clear and Russia's reaction has also been quite calm, pointing to Moscow's readiness to cooperate with the Taliban. In short, the new Afghan authorities have something to lose, so presenting themselves to the world as savages would mean forfeiting essential support and investment. Especially since international organizations have already begun to cooperate with the Taliban in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Sotnikov points out.
"However, at the end of the day everything will depend on the Taliban. If they suddenly move to resume the practice of horrible executions, including stoning, like it used to be in the 1990s, then their recognition will be out of the question. Almost no one in the world has so far recognized the Taliban regime which is why it's impossible for them to address to the UN General Assembly," the expert emphasized.
Kommersant: NATO searching for new primary threat
The recent crisis that erupted among the Trans-Atlantic allies, triggered by the rise of the new trilateral security pact AUKUS, is turning into a new challenge for NATO. Having been created for defending collective Europe from the Cold War-era Soviet threat, NATO now has to face a new reality, as its key patron, the United States, is shifting its activities to the Indo-Pacific region in an attempt to contain Beijing instead of Moscow, Kommersant writes.
Allied unity suffered two major blows between mid-August and mid-September, following the ascent of Joe Biden and his administration to the White House in January. The first blow came when President Biden moved to end Washington's operation in Afghanistan. The decision, made behind NATO members’ backs, wiped out the NATO coalition's collective efforts in the country. The second blow came in the form of a submarine deal scandal, an issue viewed by France as another US attempt to ensure its right to make all decisions alone.
Experts say that it will be difficult to restore relations between the US and its Western allies. "The Europeans expected that Joe Biden's tenure would become a third Obama term for them, but their excitement has now vanished into thin air. First, the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan made Washington's blatant ignorance of NATO allies obvious, and then AUKUS delivered another blow to the Euro-Atlantic partnership. US behavior towards France, a major key NATO ally, a nuclear power and a permanent UN Security Council member, is something unprecedented, even President Trump did not allow himself such an approach," Professor Vladimir Batyuk of the Higher School of Economics pointed out.
According to Russian International Affairs Council Director General Andrey Kortunov, NATO's future depends on whether its leadership and members manage to come to terms on a primary threat. "The NATO machine is more comfortable continuing to view Russia as the primary threat, while President Biden considers China to be such a threat," the analyst emphasized.
Nezavisiamaya Gazeta: Iran ready to cross nuclear threshold
Iran has promised to return to the negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal in a few weeks. The US administration, engaged in the Vienna talks indirectly, has assured that the door to diplomatic interaction is open. However, the rate at which Tehran is boosting its nuclear potential in retaliation to Washington’s unwillingness to lift sanctions is causing concern that the Islamic republic is about to become a threshold state, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Iran-based expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Nikita Smagin told the newspaper that since Tehran started to abandon its obligations under the nuclear deal in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it has achieved much progress in the development of nuclear technologies. "Experts say that today, Iran is closer than ever to having enough potential to create - if it so wishes - a nuclear bomb. There are certain technical difficulties but I wouldn’t overestimate them," the analyst explained.
"In a way, Iran has already been through this before," Smagin noted. "When the nuclear deal was signed, Tehran had some technical potential but it was forced to abandon it later. At that time, the Arak nuclear reactor was destroyed and excess nuclear fuel was removed from the country. Nothing is impossible and if there is political will, these issues can be resolved, especially since countries such as Russia and China are ready to help Iran get rid of excesses," he added.
However, according to the expert, the problem that remains is the political solution. "The potential that Iran has accumulated is being mostly used for putting pressure on the US to make it rejoin the nuclear deal," Smagin specified. "The US needs to provide guarantees to Iran so that it gives up the potential it already has. Not only are there serious disagreements on sanctions lists but as far as I understand, Iran demands certain guarantees to prevent developments that took place under Trump from happening once again," the expert explained. The main issue concerns an agreement on the terms of restoring the JCPOA. "If an agreement is reached, it will be possible to somehow resolve technical problems," the analyst concluded.
Kommersant: Ankara irks Moscow ahead of Erdogan's visit to Russia
The Turkish authorities have made two statements on Crimea since the beginning of the week, pointing out that Ankara did not recognize the peninsula as part of Russia. First, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated that the results of the Russian State Duma elections in Crimea were legally invalid. Later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to the UN General Assembly that he did not accept "Crimea's annexation." A thing to note is that Erdogan is scheduled to visit the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in a week for talks with Vladimir Putin. Experts interviewed by Kommersant are divided on the issue. Turkish analysts say that the above-mentioned statements reflect Turkey's well-known position and simply happened to coincide. However, Russian experts don't rule out that frustration with Russia's actions in Syria's Idlib made Turkey toughen its rhetoric.
"Turkey is indeed concerned about the territorial integrity of the region's countries. As for elections in Crimea, many nations made similar statements. Meanwhile, Moscow and Ankara have always been able to find common ground, which is why Turkey, unlike other states, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia over the Crimea issue," Sutcu Imam University Professor Togrul Ismayil said.
Head of the International Law Department at Istanbul's Yeditepe University Mesut Hakki Casin pointed out that "the presidents of Russia and Turkey will be able to discuss all misunderstandings in Sochi." "After all, our soldiers are fighting side by side against terrorism in Syria, though it's not talked about much," Casin noted.
Still, according to Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov, it is disagreements on Syria that made Ankara use harsh rhetoric in relation to Crimea. "Turkey is concerned about Russian airstrikes in Idlib, which can lead to new refugee flows. Ankara unequivocally views them as pressure ahead of the Sochi talks," the analyst pointed out. "In March, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in this regard. After that, there was a break in attacks but they started to mount again around June. This is why the Turkish authorities are trying to respond by squeezing Moscow's sore spots and will definitely raise the issue at the meeting between the two presidents," Semenov stressed.
Izvestia: Chinese developer's possible default unlikely to trigger global crisis
The possible default of China's Evergrande property giant may affect Russian steel and mining companies as it would lead to a decline in demand for raw materials used in construction, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. However, it will not become "a black swan" for the global financial system, though the growth of China's economy will significantly slow down.
On September 21, China Evergrande Group failed to pay off two commercial bank loans, and its total debt exceeded $301 bln. The real estate company started having problems in the summer, when it announced that its sales had nosedived by 88%. The company is due to make onshore bond coupon payments on Thursday and has assured it will be able to do that.
In any case, the Chinese economy will face serious consequences, Finam analyst Natalia Pyryeva said. According to her, banks, which have already begun to refuse loans to those planning to buy homes in buildings the company is constructing, will be affected the first. Next, a blow will come to Evergrande's suppliers, the expert predicted, adding that the wave would then hit the construction industry and the country's entire financial system.
When news started coming about Evergrande's failure to pay off its debts, some experts said that the company's default would be similar to the Lehman Brothers collapse, which triggered the 2008 global economic meltdown. However, the Chinese developer's role in the global financial system is not that big, Managing Director for Macroeconomic Analysis and Forecasting at the RA Rating Agency Anton Tabakh pointed out.
A drop in prices on China's property market is the main risk that Evergrande's uncontrolled default may entail as it could lead to a decline in demand for metals and construction materials, VTB Investment Strategist Stanislav Kleshchev noted. As a result, the Chinese economy's growth may slow down and commodity prices will face pressure, the expert explained.