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Press review: Biden’s inaugural address calls for unity and Iran may form ‘Shiite NATO’

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 21


Izvestia: Biden vows to unite America in his inaugural speech

Joe Biden’s inaugural speech, in which he mostly focused on the need to unite Americans and overcome differences, was fitting given the current moment, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. However, his address was not inspiring and his oratory skills were obviously less impressive than those of his predecessors - Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Besides, if the new US leadership keeps branding the former president’s supporters as extremists and insists on impeaching Trump, it will be hard to achieve unity in American society, the newspaper writes.

Biden’s inauguration ceremony was scaled down amid the pandemic. Later the White House announced that the new administration’s priorities would be the anti-coronavirus fight, climate, racial equality, the economy, immigration and restoring America’s positions in the world. According to Valery Garbuzov, who heads the Institute of the US and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, in his speech, Biden mainly focused on US domestic issues, highlighting the need to tackle coronavirus and extremism, which now hints at the actions of Trump supporters. "However, here we heard nothing principally new that could be viewed as the pillar of his future policy."

President of the American University in Moscow Edward Lozansky notes that now it is important not what Biden said, but how he will prove this in practice. Amid the drive to impeach Trump, who enjoys the support of millions, it will be a challenging task to unite America. "Biden repeated the words he had said earlier about the triumph of democracy and that he would become the president of all Americans. But it is unclear now whether people, who did not vote for him, will believe him. This is nearly half of the country and many of them think the election was rigged. Biden has a good chance to unite the US by appealing to the Democrats in the Senate not to vote for impeaching Trump. But will he have the courage and strategic vision to do this?" the expert mused.

Meanwhile, Trump is mulling to create a new conservative political force, called the Patriot Party. Experts told Izvestia he is quite capable of taking this step since he has a huge army of supporters. However, this would deal a heavy blow to the Republican Party, which could lose a significant part of their electorate, and basically make the Democrats a dominating force in the US.


Kommersant: Biden may carry on Trump’s anti-China policy

The confrontation between Washington and Beijing - the key result of Donald Trump’s foreign policy - will linger on after the power change in the White House. Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, two key representatives of the future administration - nominees for the Secretary of State and Defense Secretary - Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin - reaffirmed their determination to step up pressure on Beijing, making China, not Russia, the number one threat for the United States. However, the policy of containing China will be fine-tuned. Washington will pay more attention to the issues of democracy and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Hong Kong and Tibet.

The final address of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, who declared that he had countered China like never before, became a message for the new administration, which has shown its determination to expand and deepen Washington’s anti-Chinese line, Kommersant writes. "Despite a very negative relation to President Trump’s policy, the Biden administration won’t be able to bring the US back to 2016 even if it wishes to do so. The 46th US president will have to inherit some aspects of Trump’s strategy. First of all, that will be the conclusion that America’s key foes on the international arena will be not some non-state actors such as the Islamic State (terror group banned in Russia) but hostile world powers - China and Russia," Chief Researcher at the Institute for the United States and Canada at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Batyuk told the newspaper.

The new US administration will make values, democratic rights and freedoms a priority. However, according to the expert, despite its tough anti-Chinese rhetoric, the Biden team will try to avoid tariff wars with Beijing, which proved to be destructive mainly for the US economy, as experience shows.


Izvestia: Eurasian Economic Union seeks to boost its positions on global arena

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which brings together Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, is in talks on a free-trade zone with Egypt, Israel and India. Besides, the Eurasian Economic Commission plans to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The plans for the near future include launching talks on liberalizing trade with Indonesia and Mongolia, Izvestia writes.

However, the map of the EAEU’s cooperation, which seeks to become one of the most significant centers of the modern world’s development, won’t be limited to that in 2021. "The priority is to build a systemic dialogue with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the European Council, ASEAN, as well as the effort on coupling the Union with China’s Belt and Road Initiative to lay the foundation for creating the Greater Eurasian Partnership," said Director of the EEC Integration Development Department Gohar Barseghyan.

According to Barseghyan, another global task of the EAEU would be ensuring its representation in such regional economic commissions and organizations as the UN General Assembly, the World Customs Organization and the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s (lower house) Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Viktor Volodatsky told Izvestia that given the current developments on the international arena, the organization should not be viewed just as a purely economic structure. According to the lawmaker, it is important now to pay attention to broadening the political agenda, including protecting the sovereign rights of the EAEU’s member-states.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran eyes creating ‘Shiite NATO’ to counter Israel, US

Iran is drawing up a treaty on defense and security, which is expected to be signed by its Shiite allies in the Middle East. The new "NATO style" deal should cement the principle of a collective response to any possible attack by Israel or the United States. Despite the declared broad Iranian contacts in the region, experts note the creation of a new alliance similar to NATO is very unlikely, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The latest regional changes have been pushed by Trump’s policy. It’s no coincidence that on the last day of its work, the Iranian leadership said that an entire era came to an end. The resolution is being drafted by Iran’s parliament (Majlis) and could be voted on soon. The initiative is aimed at formalizing all unofficial relations, which Tehran currently has in the region, said Nikita Smagin, an Iran-based expert with the Russian International Affairs Council.

According to the expert, today Iran’s influence in the Middle East irritates the overwhelming majority of citizens in the region. Therefore, there are grounds to believe that the organizations, which are known to have contacts with Iran, won’t decide to openly declare their relations with the Islamic Republic. This cooperation is unlikely to turn into a counterpart of the North Atlantic Alliance, the expert stressed.

Although Tehran is good at establishing allied relations with various organizations in the region, this cooperation is based on an immediate convergence of interests. This partnership is not strong. "And definitely, Iran’s regional allies cannot be called its satellites," Smagin pointed out. "They are cooperating with Iran because their interests coincide at the moment. There were examples when [such] interests no longer coincided and Iran’s partners refused to meet its demands."


Kommersant: Gazprom contains gas export to Europe despite rising prices

Gazprom keeps ‘draining’ Europe’s gas market, acting contrary to its usual economic logic. Although gas prices in Europe have hit record highs over the past two years, Gazprom, a major supplier with great capabilities on boosting export, is not increasing supplies, and is even cutting them along the Ukrainian transit route. Meanwhile, the rising export volume is ensured by gas from storages in Europe, Kommersant writes.

Moreover, Gazprom seeks to maintain high prices on the European spot market by fully suspending gas sales on its digital trade platform for supplies in the coming months. As a result, consumers will have to purchase additional volumes through hubs, and this contributes to keeping high prices and encourages traders to pump gas from underground storage facilities.

The goal of this strategy is to avoid a slump in prices in early spring when according to analysts, Asia’s demand for gas will drop and the freed-up volume of LNG will go to Europe. It’s important for Gazprom to reduce reserves in European underground storage facilities until that moment. Unless this is done, LNG will return to Europe and could again decrease spot gas prices because US LNG plants, which seriously cut production in 2020, will again work at full capacity, said gas analyst at the Skolkovo Energy Center of Energy Center Sergey Kapitonov.

This approach by Gazprom in theory could help it to better manage the limited capacity of export gas pipelines. A major demand is going to shift to summer when European consumers will fill underground storage facilities for the next winter.


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