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Press review: Will New START be extended and Germany wants to make Russian gas greener

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, July 13


Vedomosti: Russia convinced US intends to exit New START

Russia thinks that the United States is already planning to pull out of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on July 10 at the Primakov Readings forum. The Russian top diplomat does not support Washington’s calls for trilateral talks to include China, Lavrov noted earlier, adding that the Trump administration insists on including new strategic systems developed in Russia recently in the treaty, despite the fact that they are already covered under the existing deal.

The fact that the US is unlikely to prolong the treaty has been clear for a while, Alexander Yermakov, an expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, told Vedomosti.

Washington was insistent on moving towards trilateral talks, so Russia has noted its lack of interest in prolonging the existing treaty. The expert added that no changes can be expected until the US presidential election. Prolonging New START might lead to a drop in US President Donald Trump’s ratings, which could lead him to losing half a percent of votes. However, if Joe Biden, the presidential contender from the Democratic Party, wins the election, the treaty is just a bit more likely to be extended, Yermakov pointed out.

Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher of the International Security Center with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, has described Washington’s position as uncertain. "Biden and his team wish to prolong the treaty. However, according to Russian law, this is not a swift procedure. Extending New START is possible in the form of an agreement on its temporary use, however, this will be rather difficult to do if we start in February 2021. Taking into account the difficult situation in Russian-US relations, it is possible that Biden’s team may decide against prolonging the deal after consulting with new intelligence sources. At the same time, the Trump administration might decide to prolong New START. There are options to lengthen it for two or three years instead of five," the expert told Vedomosti.


Izvestia: Germany eyes using Nord Stream 2 to make gas greener

Nord Stream 2 can contribute to environmental protection policies if the gas pipeline delivers ‘green hydrogen’ from Russia, head of Bundestag Economy and Energy Committee Klaus Ernst told Izvestia. On July 8, the European Commission presented a hydrogen strategy which failed to include Russia as a partner. The Russian-German Foreign Trade Chamber has condemned this move, noting that Nord Stream 2 is a viable option for the transition to green energy. According to German lawmakers quizzed by Izvestia, Russia is one of the most energy-intensive states with great potential that can help reach climate neutrality.

There are several different types of hydrogen than can save Europe from environmental collapse. Green hydrogen produced as a result of the electrolysis of water, grey hydrogen produced from fossil fuels like natural gas through steam conversion, and blue hydrogen made from natural gas without harmful emissions.

Nord Stream 2 representatives told Izvestia that if Europe plans to use hydrogen, it will have to use the ‘blue’ option first. Thorsten Gutmann, a spokesman for the Russian-German Foreign Trade Chamber noted that Nord Stream 2 is making an important contribution to Europe’s energy security. He added that the pipeline can be the optimal interim solution for energy transmission.

German MPs interviewed by Izvestia also noted the importance of the project with Russia for green energy. Ernst told the newspaper that Nord Stream 2 could contribute to a cleaner environment if it delivered green hydrogen from Russia, adding that he welcomes any steps made in that direction. He also said that Germany needs to cultivate a renewable energy partnership with Moscow. Russia has great potential to produce green hydrogen using wind energy, so a hydrogen alliance with Moscow seems like a good strategy, the policymaker told Izvestia. It is in the interest of both states to maintain close economic relations, he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon digs deeper into Russia-Taliban ties

The Pentagon is investigating the recently leaked information about a supposed "deal" between Russian military intelligence and the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) which was the subject of a New York Times article, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced, adding that several official bodies have disproved the information published in the article.

The tensions caused by the NYT article are still running high. Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump blasted the article on Twitter as fake news. His reaction is understandable, since the article's suggestion that the Russian military had offered the Taliban 'bounties' for the killings of foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, causes experts and politicians to doubt the peace deal signed by the US and the Taliban in February 2020 in Qatar. According to these agreements, the Taliban must refrain from attacking foreign troops in Afghanistan. The Trump administration has stressed the Taliban’s commitment to peace numerous times.

This is why it is crucial for the US leader to distance himself from this scandal, especially considering the upcoming presidential election. A recent publication by the Axios website, which notes that the intelligence data on the alleged deal between Russian intelligence and the Taliban had first surfaced during Barack Obama’s presidential administration, may help Trump do just that.

Experts point out that in the past, there have been cases when some involved in Russian clandestine operations unreasonably raised the stakes, overestimating how tough the Kremlin’s policy line can get, however, the NYT article seems hard to believe. Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Russia Matters Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that President Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership had more to lose than to gain by approving such a scheme, at least because Washington is likely to find out about this deal and get revenge. The expert added that Putin is bound to be a "rational player".


Vedomosti: Oil prices may drop due to potential increase in production and COVID-19 fears

At the end of last week, oil prices dropped once again. On July 10, Brent futures for September fell by nearly 2.5% reaching $41.32 per barrel, whereas WTI futures dropped by 2.7% reaching $38.5 per barrel. This is the highest 24-hour drop since early July. Despite the fact that by the end of the day, the prices began to rebound surpassing $43 per barrel, experts predict a new downward trend. By the end of this week, Brent may drop by about 3% and WTI by 4%, a survey of experts by the Trading Economics portal showed.

Experts relate the new drop in oil prices to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, including the US - the world’s biggest oil consumer - officials have slowed the lifting of restrictions or introduced new ones.

Due to a drop in demand, a potential increase in production by OPEC+ states that may take place in August of this year can damage the situation even further. Key members and partners of OPEC led by Russia plan to hold online talks on July 15. Bloomberg sources within OPEC suggest that its members may agree to alleviate the previous restrictions. Meanwhile, Trevor Woods, an expert with the Northern Trace Capital, told WSJ that oil prices may reach $100 per barrel in the next two years and $150 per barrel in 2025 due to several producers leaving the market.

Igor Yushkov, a leading expert with the National Energy Security Fund, told Vedomosti that a significant increase in oil prices can only take place if something happens to one of the major oil producers. "Something big should happen, something that would suddenly push out one of the producers," Yushkov explained, mentioning a war in the Middle East and the cutting-off of the Hormuz Strait as an example.

Head of the National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov added that a sky-high increase in prices is unlikely. "We need to brace for a real period of prices at about $40-50 per barrel," the expert said. Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrei Polishchiuk told the newspaper that if the biggest states introduce lockdowns again, oil prices may drop to $30-20 per barrel within a couple of months. Right now, the December futures for Brent come to $43.8 per barrel.


Izvestia: COVID-19 antibodies found in human breast milk

According to two research teams, COVID-19 antibodies have been discovered in the breast milk of women who recovered from the disease, which help infants resist the virus. These antibodies can be used to protect adults from contracting the virus as well, Russian experts told Izvestia. However, breast milk cannot serve as an alternative to blood plasma from those recovered from COVID-19, experts pointed out.

Two research articles ("Antibodies in the breast milk of a maternal woman with COVID-19" by researchers from the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology; and "Evidence of a significant secretory-IgA-dominant SARS-CoV-2 immune response in human milk following recovery from COVID-19" by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the University of California Merced) have suggested that COVID-19 antibodies have been found in human breas tmilk. The research noted the benefit of breastfeeding during the pandemic. US researchers have also outlined the possibility of using human breast milk in therapy.

Researchers use the data collected from a thousand breastfeeding mothers, 350 of which have recovered from COVID-19. Breast milk samples collected 14-30 days after the women had recovered include 90% of secreted IgA antibodies (special antibodies that survive in the digestive tract and can protect the baby from infection), 8% of IgM antibodies and 2% of IgG antibodies and others.

Izvestia asked several Russian experts about the possibilities of using human breast milk to prevent or treat COVID-19. The majority of experts stated that they would like to wait for expanded research on this topic.

Coronavirus expert and head of the microorganisms ecology department with the Far Eastern Federal University Mikhail Shchelkanov said that this milk may also contain viruses, which can pose a problem. However, the expert pointed out that using antibodies found in breast milk is a reasonable approach.


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