Kommersant: Turkish forces arrive in Azerbaijan for joint military exercises
The Turkish military has arrived in Azerbaijan for joint maneuvers involving ground forces and aviation. The exercises will kick off on Wednesday and will encompass almost the entire territory of Azerbaijan, including regions along the border with Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic. Given that real combat actions on the Azeri-Armenian border ended only on July 16, Yerevan has dismissed these steps by Baku and Ankara as a provocation. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told Kommersant that the timeframe and the location of these drills had been chosen last year, denying any link to the recent conflict.
At the height of the clashes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his full support for Baku, blaming Armenia for triggering the flare-up. He stressed that the goal of the Armenian attacks was to stonewall the settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh and also to create new hotbeds of tensions. In response, Yerevan strongly condemned Azerbaijan’s maneuvers involving Turkish troops. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Turkey of whipping up tensions.
Farkhad Mammadov, an Azerbaijani expert with the Valdai International Discussion Club, told Kommersant that although the Azeri-Turkish drills had been scheduled in advance, they should be considered part and parcel of Baku’s policy on "exhausting the enemy." "We are turning up the heat on Armenia and this should force it to change its position," Mammadov said. "This is done by using diplomatic, economic and in some cases military levers. However, Azerbaijan’s official position is that it does not need foreign support to free Karabakh."
Spokesman for the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Vagram Pogosyan told Kommersant that the authorities there treat these drills negatively, "especially after the events in Tavush, because we view them not as planned army drills but as a threat to the security of the region." "We saw how aggressively and hysterically the Turkish political leadership reacted to tensions in Tavush, in particular, they sent certain types of weapons to Azerbaijan. Baku wanted to drag Turkey into the regional conflict by any means and that could trigger unpredicted consequences." According to Pogosyan, in this context, Russia has a very important role here as a guarantor of peace in the region.
Izvestia: Dollar’s share in Russian-Chinese trade plunges to less than 50%
The US currency’s share in Russian-Chinese trade dropped by 5 percentage points in Q1 2020, reaching a historic low of 46%, Izvestia writes after analyzing statistics of the Central Bank and the Federal Customs Service. For the first time, the greenback accounted for less than half of the settlements in foreign currency between Russia and China. Meanwhile, the positions of national currencies and the euro hit a record high: 24% and 30%, respectively. However, the ruble’s share was almost unchanged and remained at 7%, the average for the past three years. The trend for replacing the dollar with other currencies in trade with China will gain pace in the near future, but the Russian ruble still remains too volatile to take a significant place in settlements, experts told the paper.
This year saw a sharp increase in the risks of new serious sanctions against China, which could also affect trade, Executive Vice-President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Murychev told Izvestia. Beijing is trying to reduce potential damage and shift settlements to other currencies. It’s much harder for Washington to track yuan-based or euro-based transactions, he explained.
Basically, this opens up unprecedented opportunities for increasing the ruble’s role in trade with China, Murychev noted. However, given its volatility, the Russian currency is unlikely to occupy a notable place. A more real alternative is to gradually switch to settlements in digital currency. China has been actively fulfilling a project towards a national crypto currency, the expert recalled. Russia is working on a law on digital financial assets, which will boost the discussion on the economic role and status of virtual money to a new level, he noted.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US exit from Afghanistan poses new challenge for Russia
The imminent pullout of the US-led coalition from Afghanistan and a potential launch of direct negotiations between the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) militants and the administration in Kabul do not guarantee that security on the ground will significantly improve. So far, the Taliban has not provided any convincing evidence of severing ties with such radical elements as Al-Qaeda (outlawed in Russia) and has failed to show readiness to sit down at the negotiating table with its opponents as demanded by the February deal signed in Qatar with the US. Since the deal was inked, the militants have halted attacks on foreign troops, but keep attacking local security forces. It’s a paradox that in this situation the Taliban’s political office is still convincing Washington that after the US rolls back its presence everything will work out, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The Taliban’s leadership has no right to offer such guarantees, the paper notes. A recent report by the UN Special Monitoring Team showed that lately a solid faction of supporters for continuing the "holy war" was formed in the Taliban. The situation is deteriorating due to inequality problems. These factors demonstrate that the US departure won’t iron out any security problems.
Against this background, Moscow’s statements that the pullout of US-led coalition from Afghanistan would benefit everyone seem to have been naive at best. The departure of the international coalition’s forces from the Central Asian republic amid the Taliban’s unclear position on a ceasefire and rupturing ties with terrorists will mean delegating many problems in the security sphere to regional actors, including Russia, according to the paper. For a long time, the Afghan crisis has been the area of US responsibility and this allowed Moscow to maintain its ambiguous policy on Afghanistan. However, after the international coalition’s withdrawal, Russia will have to determine its Afghan agenda. It’s clear that the solution to the Afghan issue is possible only with the participation of all influential regional states - both Russia and the US, as well as Pakistan, China and Iran. The exclusion of any party from this process will rule out a settlement itself, the paper writes.
Izvestia: World Athletics plans to launch procedure of RusAF’s expulsion
The doping crisis in Russia’s track-and-field athletics, which has been dragging on for five years, now faces the risk of reaching a critical point. After Russia’s refusal to pay a multi-million dollar fine, the World Athletics Council, which is due to meet on July 29-30, could change the national federation’s suspended status and strip it of recognition. This means that this sport in Russia would cease to exist from the viewpoint of the global athletics association and Russian athletes would not be able to take part in the Olympics and other major competitions.
According to former RusAF President Valentin Balakhnichev, one of key problems of Russia’s track-and-field athletics is the lack of a strong negotiator. Many believe that this could be Russia’s two-time Olympic champion Elena Isinbayeva. However, Balakhnichev explained that Isinbayeva cannot assume this role because she is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes' Commission.
Formally, the World Athletics Council has no powers to ban Russia permanently since this is an issue within the competence of the Congress of the international federation, which is scheduled for the end of winter 2021. But now the Council can strip Russian athletes of their right to take part in international competitions and recommend launching the expulsion process. In a best case scenario, the Council could make concessions and set a new deadline for paying the fine.
However, Maxim Zhurilo, the new advisor to the head of the All-Russia Athletics Federation (RusAF), told Izvestia that there is still a chance to mend ties. "We hope to jump onto the last car of a departing train, letting the WA Council understand that we are ready to cooperate."
In theory, Russia has a chance to create a new federation and apply to return. But this won’t solve the problem with "skeletons in the closet" and the new federation will probably again face multi-million dollar fines and debts, the paper says.
RBC: Nord Stream 2 pipe-laying vessel vanishes from Gazprom’s assets
Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant, has not mentioned on its new list of affiliated persons the owner of the Akademik Chersky pipe-laying vessel, which is expected to participate in the final stage of building Nord Stream 2, RBC writes citing the energy monopoly’s quarterly report.
According to the newspaper, the vessel is owned by the Samara Thermal Power Property Fund (STIF), which used to be part of the Gazprom Group. The new list of affiliated persons as of June 30, which was signed in mid-July, does not include this fund. Moreover, according to the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities as of July 28, this fund continues operating as a legal entity and did not change its name.
The paper says that the absence of this fund on the list could mean that STIF either does not belong to Gazprom or the company took advantage of the right to conceal the fund from the list of affiliated persons due to the risk of sanctions. RBC also reports that Alexander Smelkov replaced Andrei Timofeyev as the fund’s director.
Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 company needs to complete the construction of nearly 6% of the pipeline, mostly in Denmark’s waters. Earlier analysts said it was highly likely that Akademik Chersky and pipe-laying barge Fortuna, owned by the Russian state company Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy, would be involved in these efforts.
The final stage of the construction has not yet started. Nord Stream 2 will have to wait until at least early August, when the deadline expires for filing a potential appeal against the recent decision by the Danish Energy Agency. In case the construction works begin on time, they are expected to finish by late September.
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