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Press review: EU carbon tax to hit Russia and India pulls out of Russian military exercise

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 31

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Post-Soviet Central Asian states invite Afghanistan to new consultative alliance

Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov announced that five Central Asian states - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan - were drawing up a document on friendship, good neighborly relations and cooperation in the 21st century. It is expected to be signed at the upcoming leaders' summit this autumn. The third consultative meeting of the heads of state was initially scheduled for August in Bishkek, but was postponed over the coronavirus pandemic. Now the parties are discussing the document and the format of holding the summit. An agreement on drafting the deal was reached at the second summit in November 2019 in Tashkent.

According to the top Uzbek diplomat, Afghanistan has been also invited to take part. He stressed that Afghanistan’s security was important for stability and prosperity for the entire region. So, the US concept of creating a Greater Central Asia is being fulfilled, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Andrei Kazantsev, a professor with the Higher School of Economics, believes that Afghanistan is unlikely to fully join the post-Soviet Central Asian region. "These are consultative meetings and including Afghanistan in this format does not mean that the country will become part of post-Soviet Central Asia," he said.

Initially, the Central Asian format emerged from the 5+1 formula - five regional states plus the United States. Instead of the US there can be the EU, Japan and even Russia, which said that it could use this framework in its interests. "So, there are no problems with holding talks on this platform with various states. The meetings with Afghanistan will be held in this format," Kazantsev said.

Meanwhile, the Central Asian states understand that they will have to iron out Afghanistan’s problems themselves. This stance satisfies major players such as the US and the EU, the paper says.

Another problem is the growing interest of global players in Central Asia. China has been boosting its economic presence in the region, and the US has presented its new concept for Central Asia, while the EU has adopted a new strategy. However, the regional states still remain in Russia’s sphere of influence due to their shared history and humanitarian ties, chief researcher at the Market Problems Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences Nabi Ziyadullayev said.

"Historically and economically our outlook is to be together and solve regional problems. Meanwhile, the consultative format shows that it is not a rival to the Eurasian Economic Union," he noted.


Izvestia: EU’s carbon tax jeopardizes Russian trade

Russian Deputy Security Council Chairman Dmitry Medvedev has described the EU's looming carbon tax, as a serious threat to Russia. It’s no surprise as Europe is a key destination for Russia’s exports. Although the exact sum of the potential damage is still unknown, analysts put it at tens of billions of euro. There are hints of protectionism in these EU moves, but the effective reaction to such steps could only be reducing emissions by introducing new technologies, Izvestia writes.

The idea of the EU’s carbon tax on imports had been in the works for several years, but it became a reality after the adoption of the European Green Deal this year. The carbon tax, which was included in the document introduced by Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, is a logic way to offset the problem of increased spending by many EU enterprises on cutting emissions. The measure is aimed at protecting European industry from foreign rivals, which are not planning to reduce carbon gas emissions.

Russia is the EU’s major trade partner and the possible introduction of tariffs is likely to make it vulnerable. The fuel and energy sector plays a key role in Russian-EU trade. Although it is difficult to imagine that the EU will fully give up Russian oil and gas in the near future, competition for Russian companies is expected to increase.

This serious threat could be offset only by pouring investment into developing industry and opting for more technological industries, said Olga Malikova, a professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). "In order to offset the damage from this tax, we should seek to introduce modern technologies, which imply minimizing any harmful effects on the environment," she said.

Meanwhile, Anton Grinstein, an expert at the Hamilton information and analytical center, notes that Russia does not have many prospects to sort out the problem of the EU’s "green" tariffs. The only thing that could help in the near future (three-five years) is higher oil prices. Under this scenario, Russian companies could both earn and pay the tax and modernize their production, he pointed out.


Vedomosti: Belarusian authorities tighten the screws on protesters

Mass protests demanding the resignation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continued in Minsk over the weekend. On Saturday, numerous women held a march in downtown Minsk, and during the demonstration police forces blocked the streets several times and took 29 people into custody. On Sunday, more massive rallies took place, which drew thousands. The Interior Ministry said 129 people were detained.

Belarusian political scientist and leading expert at the Strategy think-tank Valery Karbalevich told Vedomosti that today there is no victor in the struggle between the protesters and the authorities in Belarus. Meanwhile, officials in Minsk continue tightening the screws - arrests aren’t slowing down and purges in the state administration are in progress. Despite this, just as before the opposition keeps holding rallies. "Repression by the authorities has failed to intimidate or calm the protests," Karbalevich said. The expert also believes that there have not been any real strikes in Belarus.

According to Andrei Suzdaltsev, a senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, neither the authorities nor the protesters have been able to gain the upper hand. Meanwhile, constant arrests and beatings are occurring and people are being taken into custody not during the rallies but once they end. The expert noted that the protests in Belarus are massive and the demonstrators are marching peacefully without seizing administrative buildings or damaging infrastructure. "All this talk about some gunmen [among the protesters] are lies. The protesters are not crossing any line, yet the Belarusian authorities have crossed it and continue their "creeping terror." Tensions are rising and this situation cannot last forever, but now a fragile balance remains, he noted.

Although some low-ranking police officers stepped down in protest, the Belarusian security agencies are not split and Lukashenko has not lost control, a former member of Russia’s special services said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: India backs out of Russia’s Kavkaz-2020 military drills

In September, major military exercises are scheduled to be held in Russia’s Southern Military District, involving China, Pakistan, Iran, Myanmar and several Central Asian states. India was also expected to send 200 troops, but it refused to participate citing the coronavirus pandemic. Analysts in New Delhi link this decision to the June clashes on a disputed part of border with China, where 20 Indian troops were killed, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

These maneuvers are being informally held within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia and all former Soviet republics in Central Asia, except for Turkmenistan, as well as India and Pakistan, who joined the group three years ago. Does this decision mean that New Delhi is turning its back on the SCO? The embassy dismissed this suggestion, saying that next week India’s defense chief would visit Moscow and attend the SCO meeting.

Meanwhile, the situation on the control line between India and China after the June clashes remains tense. Therefore, New Delhi’s defiant absence from the Kavkaz-2020 maneuvers again raises issue over the SCO’s future after the accession of India and Pakistan. Earlier, skeptics in China and Russia warned that granting membership to the two mutual rivals would make the organization unviable.

Vinay Shukla, an editor at India Strategic magazine, told the paper that India’s refusal to participate in the drills was not only a hint for Beijing and Islamabad. The maneuvers will take part in the region, which includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is possible that their military will join the drills. Still, India does not recognize these republics as independent and does not want these drills to affect its ties with Georgia, he noted. However, military expert Viktor Litovkin pointed out that the key reason behind India’s move was the conflict with China and Pakistan.


Vedomosti: New Japanese PM unlikely to closely cooperate with Russia

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped down on August 28, saying that he was unable to take the right decisions due to his ongoing illness. Abe has served 2,803 days at his post, far longer than any of his predecessors at this post. Yoshihide Suga, who currently serves as Chief Cabinet Secretary, is considered as Abe’s likely successor.

One of Abe’s major goals was to iron out the issue of a peace treaty with Russia, Vedomosti says. The Japanese prime minister made every effort to complete talks with Russia and sign a treaty. During his career, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin 27 times. The Kremlin expressed regret over Abe’s resignation, noting his serious contribution to fostering bilateral ties.

The lack of a peace deal with Russia is a key obstacle for normalization between Russia and Japan, and in the past years this has been of special importance. China has advanced to the leading positions in the world and this puts all countries in another situation, political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov told the paper. And this is especially important for Japan, the expert noted. "So the idea [of Abe] that the key obstacle [the lack of a peace treaty] could be overcome and then other preconditions would be created for developing relations and building a more delicate balance between Japan and China, and Russia and China was certainly relevant."

Besides, there was certainly a good personal relationship between Putin and Abe, Lukyanov said. "But this was not enough, because the problem is in the category of those that are nearly unsolved." It’s hard to sort out territorial disputes and the settlement of the Russian-Japanese dispute was initially doomed to failure, given the context, the expert noted.

After Abe’s departure, there won’t be a personal factor in Russian-Japanese relations and the issue of signing a peace treaty will be removed from the agenda in the near future. The new Japanese leader won’t have any moral commitments to Moscow and Russia’s recently adopted constitutional amendments closed the legal possibility of achieving agreements, Lukyanov said.


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