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Press review: US nixes Putin’s New START offer and why Iran is waiting for US elections

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, October 19th

Vedomosti: Washington rejects Putin’s initiative to extend New START


The United States has rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) without preconditions, emphasizing its willingness to prolong the document for a year provided that both parties freeze their nuclear assets, Vedomosti writes.

New START is the last major bilateral treaty related to nuclear arms control, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov pointed out. Without the agreement, the era of bilateral arms control, which began 50 years ago, will come to an end. Putin’s initiative was targeted at US President Donald Trump who may need to showcase himself as a champion of peace ahead of the presidential election, Kortunov noted. Russia actually suggested that talks should be continued later, in case Trump wins. "If Trump fails to be re-elected, then [Russia] would continue the conversation with the Democrats. Especially since Biden seems to be willing to preserve the bilateral mechanism of strategic arms control," the expert added.

The possibility of extending the treaty will exist until February 2021, with the deal actually expiring only three months later, said Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher of the International Security Center with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. According to him, Putin is ready to continue substantial discussions of mutual concerns in the strategic field. His order to the Foreign Ministry to get a clear-cut answer from the United States points to Moscow’s annoyance at "the mess in Washington."

Kortunov believes that even if New START is extended, the current arms control mechanism cannot be salvaged. "In any case, there is a need to shift to a new mechanism. Not only in terms of engaging China, but also because of changes in nuclear weapons technologies," the expert stressed.


Media: Second ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh at risk of breaking down

Another humanitarian ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan came into effect overnight into Sunday but both parties reported continued shelling and air raids early in the morning, blaming each other for resuming military activities. Yerevan claimed that its positions along the line of contact had been shelled. Baku insists that it was Armenian artillery that broke the truce. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s army continued its offensive near the Khudaferin Reservoir along the Iranian border, taking control of a strategically important bridge over the Aras River, according to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the deployment of ceasefire verification groups formed by the opposing parties, as well as by Russia, Turkey and the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe (OSCE), is the only way to ease tensions at this point.

The parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict need to form patrol units to control the withdrawal of weapons from the line of contact, which will become the first step towards a true ceasefire, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov told the newspaper. "A peacekeeper mission would be the best way to ensure the truce but it is impossible without both parties’ consent. This is why, for now, Baku and Yerevan need to establish patrol groups to withdraw military equipment from the line of contact. Naturally, it will require some political will," the Russian lawmaker pointed out.

"The situation is unfolding in line with the logic of war, not peace. To make agreements work, the entire concept must change," Azerbaijani political scientist Ilgar Velizade told Kommersant.

According to political expert Denis Denisov, one meeting with the foreign minister is not enough to resolve the conflict and end the hostilities. In order to ensure a long-term and effective ceasefire, there is a need to create a verification mechanism in the region, which should include representatives of both opposing parties, as well as Russia, Turkey and other members of the OSCE Minsk Group, he explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran to put off rearmament plans until after US election

An international embargo on weapons trade with Iran expired on Sunday. Tehran now can replenish its rather outdated weapons stockpiles, which would trigger an arms race and escalate tensions in the Middle East. However, US pressure will hinder Iran’s rearmament efforts so Tehran will wait for a potential change of power in the United States, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Economic problems are another obstacle to Iran’s rearmament plans. Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Sazhin pointed to three factors leading to the collapse of the Iranian economy, which include US sanctions, declining economic activities due to the coronavirus pandemic and a drop in oil prices.

At the same time, the Iranian army badly needs to be re-equipped. According to Military Watch, Iran intends to renew its entire fleet of warplanes. Tehran is ready to purchase Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30SM2 fighters, Mikoyan MiG-35 fighters and Mil Mi-35 or Kamov Ka-52 combat helicopters. Iran also plans to upgrade its navy. The army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will exert significant influence on the country’s authorities to increase defense spending.

However, the outcome of these efforts won’t become evident any time soon. In Sazhin’s view, no immediate arms contracts will be reached. "Russia, China and Iran will wait until November 3, when the presidential election is set to take place in the US. If Trump remains in power, the White House will maintain its tough policy. On the other hand, some of Biden’s statements show that he is ready to reconsider the United States’ Iran policy. Democrats are in no way pro-Iranian but their policy will be more pragmatic. That said, Iran will have options," the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Belarusian protesters change tactics

Demonstrations once again dominated this weekend in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Participants in opposition-organized rallies sought to move from downtown to the city’s outskirts but that did not enable them to avoid arrests as over 120 people were apprehended in the past two days. The nationwide protests will drag on for months, until real opposition forces get a chance to engage in a recently created mechanism to collect opinions on possible constitutional changes, Izvestia writes, citing political scientists.

Initiatives related to the proposed constitutional amendments will be presented to the country’s parliament after October 25, the day opposition figurehead and former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has set as a deadline for President Alexander Lukashenko to step down.

Recently, the creation of platforms to collect opinions on potential changes to the constitution was announced in Belarus, and the opposition is expected to submit its proposals to parliament by October 25. After that, a series of forums and discussions will kick off, and the initiatives will be summarized at a nationwide event in December, Belarusian political expert Alexei Dzermant told the paper.

"It will impact a number of protesters but the radically-minded ones, actively supported by Tikhanovskaya from overseas, will keep up their activities," he noted.

"The wave of demonstrations will continue for now. It won’t die out fast because the protests involve die-hard opposition activists who reject the idea of constitutional reform and the terms for it set by the government. This is why protest activities will go on in the coming months though the number of participants will keep declining," the expert added.


Izvestia: Coronavirus threat scares countries into stocking up on food

Egypt, Taiwan and China are reportedly making strategic stocks of food products for fear of a second coronavirus wave and related restrictions. However, experts are inclined to believe that there is no global hunger threat and prices won’t skyrocket, Izvestia writes.

These concerns and a rise in consumer activity are rooted in what happened in April, when the crisis broke out, cutting logistics chains created over the years, and leading to empty shelves in stores. Many countries faced such a situation, which prompted consumers to buy more goods. That said, consumer habits changed and the crisis-hit global market failed to respond to it at some point.

The increasing activities of a number of countries on the global food market come from the desire to calm their people and convince them that everything is under control and that they are not under any threat of starvation whatsoever, Managing Partner at the WMT Consult analysis agency Ekaterina Kosareva pointed out.

There is another side to the issue, and all experts agree that it is high time for Russia to take advantage of the situation and enhance its influence on the global food market. "The International food price index, calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization, has been rising for four months. In particular, grain prices have hit historic highs," noted Alexander Razuvayav, head of the Alpari information and analysis center.

However, a focus on exports is also a dangerous thing. "Despite high yields of grain in 2020, we should not export everything," says Maxim Khudalov, who heads the Sustainable Development Risk Assessment Group at ACRA.

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