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Press review: Karabakh clashes resume and UK inks deal to boost Ukraine’s military

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, October 14
One of the streets in the city of Shushi, Nagorny Karabakh, following strikes Sergei Bobylev/TASS
One of the streets in the city of Shushi, Nagorny Karabakh, following strikes
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

Izvestia: Clashes in Karabakh return to pre-ceasefire level of escalation

Russia is urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to the recently brokered ceasefire and stop any attempts to destabilize Karabakh, the State Duma told Izvestia, noting that despite numerous violations, a ceasefire and the upcoming substantive negotiations remain the only way to resolve the conflict. Vice President of the National Assembly of Armenia Alen Simonyan told the newspaper that the sides returned to fighting, and the truce is not working. The armed conflict will continue without the intervention of a third party, despite all calls, experts interviewed by Izvestia believe.

According to Simonyan, vice president of Armenia’s National Assembly, the only option to halt the escalation in Karabakh and shift the conflict from the battlefield to a political plane is the active participation of Russia in peace negotiations. "By October 13, the parties returned to the volume of attacks, seen before the signing of the Moscow armistice agreement. The specific dates when the promised substantive negotiations will begin, which should end the conflict, have not yet been announced," the politician told Izvestia.

The ceasefire, even in its current half-hearted form, is a huge step forward as it remains the only deterrent from a full-scale war, therefore, both Baku and Yerevan must hold on to it, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov told Izvestia. "I believe that a truce is necessary, first of all, for the parties to the conflict themselves. But we urgently need to work on the issues of verification in order to know exactly who opens fire. It should be done in the very near future with the help of the OSCE Minsk Group’s monitoring," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Azerbaijan Sabir Hajiyev told the newspaper that Baku is not taking military action against Armenia. "We only suppress provocations," he stressed. According to him, now the ball is in Armenia’s court. It must submit specific substantive proposals, a schedule for the withdrawal of troops, so that Baku can consider this issue and make a decision. "If we want the hostilities to stop not only on paper, then we need to bring peacekeeping forces to Karabakh to separate the sides. And not just observers - it must be a contingent that can stop hostilities. There is only one alternative to this method - after a while Armenia and Azerbaijan will simply continue the war until [one side gets] complete victory," the expert told Izvestia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Exiled opposition figurehead vows to launch nationwide strike in Belarus

After the Belarusian authorities had resumed their crackdown, arrests, and violence in dealing with the protests, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya presented an ultimatum to President Alexander Lukashenko. By October 25, he must step down, end the violence, and release political prisoners, otherwise the country will initiate a general strike. Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that there is a risk that Lukashenko's opponents will not be able to mobilize Belarusians for a nationwide strike, and the president of Belarus himself is not going to make concessions.

On Sunday and Monday, the Belarusian authorities again launched a clampdown with massive detentions, violence and torture. Moreover, 713 people were detained on Sunday alone. According to experts, a watershed moment is emerging. "Having realized that now is a critical moment for the protests, Tikhanovskaya is making a retaliatory move," political observer Alexander Klaskovsky told the newspaper. "This step is logical, but it is risky," he believes. The risk is that Lukashenko's opponents will not be able to mobilize Belarusians for a nationwide strike. "We know that in August it fell through, although it seemed that it was about to begin. The authorities used a whole range of methods to suppress it, first and foremost pressure and intimidation," the expert said.

It is unknown whether the general mobilization will succeed now, but it is obvious that in these coming weeks Tikhanovskaya’s team will make every effort to decisively lock horns with the regime. If it does not work out, then this will be a serious defeat for Tikhanovskaya, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

As for Lukashenko's reaction, Minsk does not harbor any illusions here. "Of course, Lukashenko will not announce that he is resigning. This is unthinkable," Klaskovsky noted. However, he does not rule out that Lukashenko may release several political prisoners, not because he was presented with an ultimatum, but because he has already begun this process. The answer to the ultimatum is likely to be more brutality.


Kommersant: Gazprom rushing to complete pipelaying of Nord Stream 2

Direct evidence has emerged that the Akademik Cherskiy pipelaying vessel is conducting tests near Kaliningrad to further resume laying down the last section of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Thus, according to MarineTraffic, one of the supply vessels, located near the Akademik Cherskiy, has switched to test mode, while the pipelayer itself still remains in "limited maneuverability." Analysts interviewed by Kommersant believe that Gazprom will need three to five months of actual work to lay it with the existing fleet.

Supply vessels must deliver the tubes to the pipe-layers, so Gazprom is now forced to use only its own fleet and cannot hire foreign vessels due to US sanctions, the newspaper writes. Gazprom remains tight-lipped, Nord Stream 2 AG told Kommersant that the company does not comment on "various assumptions regarding the pipe-laying capacities and timing," but "intends to announce its plans in a timely manner."

It is not yet clear whether additional restrictions will be imposed on Nord Stream 2 due to the alleged poisoning of opposition blogger Alexey Navalny. But the US has already proposed tough new sanctions, which are included in the country's defense budget bill for 2021. Given such circumstances, Gazprom is likely to try to complete the physical pipe-laying as soon as possible.

With the use of the entire fleet of pipelayers that the Russian side has to complete both lines of the gas pipeline, it will take anywhere from three to five months of actual working time, gas analyst at the Skolkovo Energy Center Sergey Kapitonov believes. At the same time, right now is not the best time for construction, he continues, since storms are about to begin in the fall and winter in the Baltic Sea.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: London agrees to help Ukraine build military bases

Rumors that foreign military bases cropped up on Ukrainian soil after a recent visit by President Vladimir Zelensky to the United Kingdom have surfaced. A memorandum was signed in London last week on strengthening bilateral cooperation in the defense and military-technical spheres. It was reported that the document included a loan of 1.25 bln pounds to the Ukrainians. The two new naval bases to be built on the shores of the Azov and Black Seas will be Ukrainian, not foreign. However, foreign military will still be able to stay at these bases, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Ukrainian legislation does not provide for the possibility of placing foreign military bases on the territory of the country, the newspaper writes. According to military expert, reserve colonel Oleg Zhdanov, a US base is being constructed in Ukraine from scratch. Foreign military will be present there with the permission of Ukraine as instructors, teaching staff, and, possibly, as technical staff to ensure the existence of this base, he said adding that if other bases are built, foreign military personnel may also be present there under the same conditions.

At the same time, Zhdanov noted that even if the deployment of foreign military bases were allowed, this would not bring Ukraine closer to joining NATO "for strategic and political reasons, since NATO will not enter into an armed confrontation with Russia." The military expert believes that the new Ukrainian military bases, which are planned to be built with the help of the West, will provide security guarantees. Although the allies are not going to fight for Ukraine, "both the United States and the United Kingdom will provide all military and technical assistance to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."


Vedomosti: Bank of Russia plans to issue digital rubles

Russia’s Central Bank is exploring the possibility of issuing digital rubles. According to the regulator, digital rubles can become a new form of money along with cash and non-cash. The digital ruble will be available to everyone: citizens, businesses, financial market participants, and the state and could make payments faster and safer. However, experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that its launch could take several years.

"The key innovation in issuing the digital ruble is not in a new form of money, but in expanding the direct access of economic agents to the obligations of the Central Bank," Deputy Chairman of the Bank of Russia Alexey Zabotkin said.

Head of the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting Oleg Solntsev told the newspaper that comparing the digital ruble with a cryptocurrency would be incorrect, since the current cryptocurrencies are decentralized and not issued by any particular institution. He noted that the largest world powers - China and the United States - are also engaged in the development of national digital currencies.

According to the Bank of Russia, digital rubles can make payments faster, easier, and safer. "The digital ruble can become a new convenient additional means of payment for both buyers and sellers, including in remote, sparsely populated and hard-to-reach areas where access to financial infrastructure is limited," the regulator said.

However, Solntsev believes that digital rubles could create problems for the banking system - there can be a very decent outflow of money from accounts and deposits since the digital ruble is more convenient and cheaper for transfers.

At the same time, the statement by the Bank of Russia did not provide any specific dates on the launch of the new financial instrument. According to Head of the State Duma working group on assessing the risks of cryptocurrency turnover Elina Sidorenko, it could take at least two years to develop.




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