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Press review: NATO spooked by myth of Russian ‘doctrines’ and RAND sparks Turkey coup talk

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, February 21
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov  Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS


Kommersant: NATO battling two ‘non-existent’ Russian military concepts

At a recent meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested restoring a regular dialogue between both militaries, Kommersant wrote. However, the alliance is ready to continue only political-level communication within the Russia-NATO Council, which Moscow considers insufficient. According to the Russian side, the lack of military-level communication, and an almost complete lack of mutual trust, can lead to a mistaken interpretation of each other's intentions, and, therefore, to a possible escalation. Sources in the Russia’s state agencies cited an example of this to Kommersant: NATO’s recent ramped-up ‘struggle’ against two military doctrines that has been allegedly attributed to Russia, yet, Moscow rebuffs them as “non-existent”.

In 2019, the Pentagon said that Russia began developing scenarios for a limited nuclear strike, Kommersant wrote. NATO calls this doctrine supposedly adopted by Russia an "escalation for the sake of de-escalation." According to many Western military experts, Moscow allegedly assumes that if a local conflict with conventional weapons between Russia and one or several NATO countries occurred, and if the Russian military is overcome with a feeling of imminent defeat, they could use tactical nuclear weapons to try to finish the confrontation on their own terms. Along with this doctrine, NATO began fighting the Russian "hybrid threat", supposedly based on the "Gerasimov Doctrine" on non-military ways to achieve political and strategic goals.

"The statement about the ‘escalation for the sake of de-escalation" principle allegedly enshrined in the Russian Military Doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons does not correspond to reality and is a deliberate distortion of it," the Russian Defense Ministry told Kommersant. The ministry emphasized that the principle of "defensive nuclear deterrence" is included in the Military Doctrine, according to which the use of nuclear weapons is possible only in response.

However, Kommersant’s source in the alliance’s structures are convinced that this is the reason for the Iskander-M operational-tactical missile systems capable of carrying nuclear warheads being deployed in the Kaliningrad Region. "The fact that official Russian documents do not mention such a blow does not mean that Russia is not working on such scenarios. Recent events show that Russia sees NATO as a key threat, and we do not have the right to disregard this," one of the newspaper’s sources in NATO headquarters said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Coronavirus fears hammering Russian exports

Russia kicked off the year with a slowdown in the economy and a new decline in exports. The country’s economy is losing 1 bln rubles ($15.58 mln) per day from the plunge in trade with China over the coronavirus, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. Meanwhile, China, which even before the outbreak of the virus experienced a structural slowdown of its economy, will now see an acceleration of this process. The situation in China will continue to negatively affect Russia’s exports, experts told the newspaper.

According to the Ministry of Economic Development, the Russian economy in January showed a slowdown. GDP growth decelerated to 1.6% after 2.3% in December. The ministry expects that this year the country's economy will grow by 1.9%. It was noted that among the basic industries, manufacturing and trade had contributed the most to GDP growth, while construction and mining retained weak output dynamics. The volume of Sino-Russian trade is also on the decline.

Chinese shipments of goods to Russia slumped due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Russia’s Federal Customs Service confirmed. The decrease in Russian supplies to China in the first six weeks of this year could hit the 30% mark. The main decline, as reported, was seen in the supplies of ore, fats and wax, flour products and cereals, as well as wood. Russian Railways reported that they had recorded a drop in traffic between China and Russia in January and early February amid the novel coronavirus spread.

"China is Russia's largest trading partner, the volume of bilateral trade in which amounted to about $110 bln in 2018. A slowdown in the Chinese economy is fraught with a decrease in the consumption of energy resources, which is bad for prices on commodity markets and may slow down the formation of Russia's reserves," senior analyst at BCS Premier Sergey Suverov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US think tank stirs up potential coup fears in Turkey

A report by the RAND Corporation on Turkey’s political course, which mentioned the likelihood of a new coup, caused confusion in Ankara, a Turkish source familiar with the discussions told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to the source, many fear that the study done by an American company may partially reflect the Trump administration’s plans. However, this could have been done by Washington on purpose in order to control the agenda, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The RAND study entitled "Turkey’s Nationalist Course" got local experts and politicians talking. "Everyone is discussing this topic because they think that the reports put together by the RAND either reflect or may change US foreign policy," the Turkish source told the Russian paper. "There are many versions. People say that before the coup attempt in 2016, there were similar studies, their forecasts came true to some extent," the source added. However, there are those who do not take what RAND publishes seriously, the source said, adding that the Turkish army is a structure that is too closed to judge its mood accurately.

According to the Turkish media, local officials scrutinized the risks of a new coup in closed meetings. The fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was acquainted with excerpts from the report proves how serious the Turkish establishment takes this study. At least, his statements partially testified to this, the newspaper wrote. Without mentioning the study directly, Erdogan on board his plane the day before told reporters that the resistance to the coup in 2016 should be a lesson for everyone.

Meanwhile, experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the RAND report’s appearance in the spotlight might partially reflect the desire of the ruling elite to manage the agenda and consolidate Turkish society, which fails to demonstrate unity on the new cross-border operations in Syria.


Vedomosti: Gazprom, Wintershall begin gas production in the North Sea

Wintershall Noordzee B.V. (WINZ) announced the start of production at the Sillimanite gas field in the North Sea. Wintershall Noordzee is a joint venture of Gazprom EP International B.V. and Germany’s Wintershall Dea, both companies own 50% each. Experts told Vedomosti, that the projects’ production volumes might not be its main attraction. This is an image project for Gazprom since the company will work with one of its most important German partners in a prestigious European production region.

The Sillimanite field was discovered in 2015 in the southern North Sea. It is roughly equal in distance from the shores of Great Britain and the Netherlands, which is why it falls under the jurisdiction of both countries, but WINZ (39.7%) is the operator in both cases, and Gazprom EP International directly owns another 19.9% in the project. Representatives of Wintershall Dea and Gazprom EP International have not yet commented on the field’s reserves.

Analyst with the Energy Center at Skolkovo School of Management Sergey Kapitonov told Vedomosti, "Gazprom receives image dividends from working with one of its most important German partners in a traditional and prestigious European oil and gas production region. This experience is really unique, because, for example, Gazprom was not allowed on the Norwegian shelf." "In addition, work in offshore gas fields means using current technologies as well as mastering new ones, which Gazprom may not have enough of, given the generally ‘continental’ nature of the company," he added.

Production in the North Sea is more expensive than in Western Siberia. The average cost here is estimated at $15 per barrel of oil and about $92 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, Kapitonov noted. "But consumer centers are in close proximity, and operator companies do not need to spend money on expensive transportation. And in the structure of Gazprom’s gas price in Europe, the main share falls on transportation costs and export duties," the analyst told Vedomosti.


Vedomosti: Amur Shipbuilding Plant to receive contract for 10 corvettes

The Amur Shipbuilding Plant in Russia’s Far East may receive the largest order for the construction of warships in its history. A top manager in the industry and a person close to the Russian Defense Ministry told Vedomosti, the parties are discussing the terms of a contract for the construction of up to 10 corvettes for the Pacific Fleet. Ten of these ships are valued at more than 180 bln rubles ($2.8 bln), and the signing of a firm contract may take place as early as 2021, one of the sources said.

The new order will allow loading the plant’s capacities for the next 12-14 years, the source said. This will preserve the plant, which plays an important role in equipping the forces of the Pacific Fleet, and will ensure the social stability of the urban area, which is dependent on this company.

According to a Vedomosti source close to the General Staff of the Russian Navy, the contracting of a new series of corvettes for this project will correct the existing bias in the surface forces of the Pacific Fleet. Out of about 50 ships, it has only two new corvettes received from the shipyard in 2017-2018.

The Amur Shipbuilding Plant is one of the most problematic of the United Shipbuilding Corporation plants, Vedomosti wrote, but it was impossible to close it for socio-political reasons, a source in the government told the newspaper. In 2012-2017, it was in dire financial straits, and needed constant capitalization. Now the situation is improving, a person close to the military department said. At least, there was no sharp criticism of the Amur shipbuilders from Defense Deputy Minister Alexey Krivoruchko, who visited the plant in November 2019.


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