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Press review: Russia to reconsider Open Skies Treaty and Twitter targets Sputnik V vaccine

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, January 15
Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine Yuri Smityuk/TASS
Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine
© Yuri Smityuk/TASS


Kommersant: Russia to reconsider Open Skies Treaty membership

Moscow is set to announce plans to reconsider its membership in the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows signatory countries to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory. The United States left the treaty last year, forcing Russia to search for a proper response. According to experts interviewed by Kommersant, Moscow may not just suspend its membership but pull out of the treaty altogether. Washington’s European allies tried to persuade the US not to withdraw from the treaty but the Trump administration did not listen to them.

"In political terms, the Treaty on Open Skies is designed to maintain transparency and cooperative security in Europe. The United States is out of the agreement and the Europeans have turned out to be unable to make a grand gesture to support the treaty," PIR Center expert Andrey Baklitsky pointed out. "Given the current estrangement between Russia and Europe, as well as Moscow’s difficult history of relations with Joe Biden, chances are that the Russian leadership will come to the conclusion that there is no one in Europe to build cooperative security with and then, the Treaty on Open Skies will share the fate of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe," the expert added.

Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, believes that "Russia has already shown surprising patience in a situation where other member states, particularly European ones, adopted a passive stance."

"European countries and Canada must have thought that the problem will solve itsellf, especially since a new administration is entering the White House. Meanwhile, Russia put forward specific initiatives aimed at preserving the Treaty on Open Skies and showed its willingness to pursue a flexible approach to formalizing them but still, there seem to have been no substantive response, only statements about the treaty’s importance," the expert emphasized. "And now, our country is very likely to announce the suspension of its membership and will even probably launch a withdrawal process," Stefanovich said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran lifts last remaining limitations on its nuclear program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to get the incoming Biden administration on his side as far as Iran’s nuclear program is concerned. He may appoint a special envoy to Washington to hold talks with the White House, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to send signals to the United States. Iranian Permanent Envoy to International Organizations in Vienna Kazem Gharibabadi has said that Tehran is beginning the process of improving fuel for the production of uranium metal. According to the US media, Tehran is searching for leverages to pressure Biden’s team to immediately remove sanctions and ensure Washington’s return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program without preconditions.

"In December 2020, Iran’s parliament passed a law on a strategic plan for the removal of sanctions and the protection of the Iranian people’s interests, which outlines a number of steps that the government and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran should take within a specified timeframe," military expert Yuri Lyamin pointed out. "The steps particularly include the production of 20-percent enriched uranium, the installation of new uranium enrichment centrifuges and a refusal to voluntarily implement the additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty," he specified.

One of the law’s articles stipulates that a uranium metal plant in Isfahan should be launched within five months, Lyamin noted. "On the whole, even the law’s title makes it clear that Tehran is giving the European Union and US President-elect Joe Biden a challenge: return to compliance with the JCPOA, remove the Trump-imposed sanctions and then, Iran will also resume compliance with its obligations. Otherwise, Iran’s nuclear program will get a boost with no artificial limits to stop it," the expert emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: WHO investigation may damage Beijing's reputation

A World Health Organization (WHO) team that has arrived in China’s Wuhan may play an important role in finding out how the coronavirus jumped from animals to humans. However, the difficulties that the researchers are facing are complicated by the fact that the issue is politicized. A number of Western countries, including the United States, accuse China of failing to contain the infection in its early stages. China, in turn, seeks to take advantage of the WHO probe in order to boost its image as a responsible state, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

The WHO delegation includes experts from Russia, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Kenya, Japan, the Netherlands, Qatar, Sudan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam, as well as from China. The WHO said earlier that researchers should first look for the source of the infection in Wuhan, where the first coronavirus outbreak had occurred in late 2019.

Vasily Kashin, a senior researcher fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, pointed out that "it was the US that made the first move to politicize the issue when it started asserting that the virus had originated from a Chinese laboratory." "After that, China began to put limitations on information about the early phases of the pandemic. In particular, the Chinese State Council ordered that all universities submit articles about the virus’s origin to a relevant agency for censorship approval. Clearly, the Chinese government is afraid that any information could be used to pin the blame on Beijing. This is why we are unlikely to learn the truth," the expert said.

China's CoronaVac vaccine also became a subject of controversy. Brazil's Butantan Institute said that it was only 50% effective, while the head of the manufacturing company stressed that the vaccine was safe and effective. According to Alexander Lukin, who heads the International Affairs Department at the Higher School of Economics, the incident is the result of fierce competition among vaccine suppliers.


Kommersant: ‘No issues in the Arctic requiring a military solution’, Russian envoy emphasizes

Russia is getting ready to take over its two-year Arctic Council chairmanship, which will begin in May. Nikolai Korchunov, Ambassador-at-large of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who is the country’s top official in the Arctic Council, in an interview with Kommersant clarified what goals Moscow would pursue during its chairmanship.

According to Korchunov, Russia’s chairmanship will focus on issues such as the need to improve the living conditions of the region’s residents, the conservation of biodiversity and the Arctic’s economic development. "Russia will seek to boost Arctic cooperation and preserve the region as a place of peace and constructive cooperation," he stressed.

In response to a question about the militarization of the Arctic, the diplomat pointed out that "as ice melts and access to the region becomes easier, NATO’s Arctic nations and non-Arctic members seek to boost their military presence in the region," which leads to a increase in conflict potential. He emphasized that "Moscow is firmly committed to resolving all issues, including territorial disputes, through diplomatic means." "Russia’s military activities in the Arctic do not violate the country’s international obligations as they are not aimed against Arctic countries and do not create threats to their national security," Korchunov noted.

"We believe that there are no issues in the Arctic that require military solutions," he noted. "In order to prevent the military and political situation in the Arctic from deteriorating, Russia supports the resumption of annual meetings between the chiefs of the general staff of Arctic nations, which used to take place before 2014. It would be an effective move towards ensuring trust and security in the region. The possibility of dialogue between military experts from Arctic Council countries could be considered the first step towards restoring the mechanism," the Russian diplomat said.

At the same time, in his words, "the Arctic Council is a civil cooperation platform and its major goal is to ensure the sustainable development of the Arctic region."


Izvestia: Twitter suspends Sputnik V vaccine's account amid competition between producers

On the night of January 14, Twitter for a while suspended the account of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, citing a hacking attack from US territory as the reason. News about the account’s suspension came amid reports of the death of 23 people in Norway, who had received a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTec, Izvestia writes.

First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Dzhabarov believes that the suspension by Twitter stems from unfair competition. "It’s kind of like the sanctions that the Americans use worldwide. They see that our vaccine is gaining momentum, and more and more countries are expressing interest in it and registering it. Perhaps, they want to stop news about our vaccine from spreading," the senator told the newspaper. "It clearly shows that America is no longer the beacon of freedom of the press but has morphed into a totalitarian power," he added.

"It’s not funny when social media owners stop viewing them only as a business and start imposing their own tastes and phobias," political scientist Konstantin Kalachev noted. "However, we have already seen it happen to newspapers and television. Why should social media be any different? This will result in user flow from one social media network to another," he added.

"Word of our vaccine and its successes has spread around the world. It’s disadvantageous for those who seek to drive it out of the market," member of the Russian Civic Chamber, journalist Alexander Malkevich pointed out. "Seeing that the first wave of fake news about our vaccine produced no result, our opponents decided to limit the flow of information on it," he stressed.


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