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Press review: Russia greenlights extending New START and US seeks to reset ties with Iran

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 28
Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS
Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament
© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

Media: Russian parliament fast-tracks New START’s extension

Both houses of Russia’s parliament unanimously ratified the extension of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on Wednesday, in a fast-track move just ten days before it was due to expire. The key nuclear arms reduction treaty was extended in the form that Moscow had insisted - for five years, until February 5, 2026 - without any preconditions. According to US experts, with 16 days left between Joe Biden’s inauguration and the treaty’s expiration date, the US administration made the right choice to endorse New START’s extension in this form, Izvestia writes. New START is the last remaining treaty that limits Russian and US nuclear arsenals and without it the two countries, which possess 90% of the world’s entire nuclear weapons, for the first time in the past 50 years, would have been stripped of a chance to monitor each other’s nuclear weapons, an expert at the Arms Control Association Shannon Bagos told the newspaper.

As for the future agreements, Russia’s proposals in the framework of the so-called "security equation," as officials said, are of interest and there are certain issues to discuss," said Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. To get things started, the parties should declare priorities for such talks and New START’s extension is an excellent moment for such statements, the expert noted.

Research fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Pavel Koshkin told Vedomosti that the Putin-Biden phone conversation on extending New START was unlikely to bring about any positive changes in bilateral ties. According to Koshkin, "New START is an exception that only confirms the rule since this treaty is one of a few issues for dialogue." In this situation, Biden is continuing the policy of Barack Obama, who sought nuclear disarmament. Therefore, the new president is ready to extend the deal since this is an issue of continuity and he cannot just "stomp on Obama’s heritage."

Pavel Sharikov, who heads the Russian Center for Applied Research at the Academy of Sciences' Institute for the United States and Canada, believes that some positive changes in Russian-US relations still can be expected since the two presidents have established "a frank contact" between Moscow and Washington. According to the expert, the Trump administration’s departure played into Russia’s hands since the former president "got tough" on New START.


Izvestia: Sputnik V’s production in India opens up new prospects for Russia

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine will be registered in India in a few weeks and its production in the country will be launched soon, India’s Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma told Izvestia. In total, some 300 mln doses of the Russian vaccine will be manufactured in India and in the future, it will be available for export to both Russia and third countries. Due to high global confidence in drugs produced in India and an active campaign in New Delhi on supplying vaccines against COVID-19 to the international market, joint production of the Russian drug will make it more recognizable in the entire South Asian region.

Earlier, Head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev said India had more than five facilities for producing Russia’s vaccine for supplies abroad. The Russian Embassy in India told Izvestia it was carefully watching the implementation of agreements between RDIF and local partners on carrying out the final stage of clinical trials and its further production.

Choosing India as a spot for producing Sputnik V is quite logical, the newspaper says. The country is the world’s major producer of vaccines, accounting for 60% of the global market. The total capacity of several leading Indian producers of various vaccines reaches 8.2 bln doses per year, with nearly 1.5 bln exported to 150 countries.

According to Sreeram Sundar Chaulia, Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs, India has greater capabilities on developing and producing vaccines and a better reputation than China. Some 47 Indian medications were approved by the World Health Organization compared with five Chinese ones. The supplies of millions of doses to Asian, African and Latin American countries will definitely boost India’s image as a vaccine superpower in the world, he said. This does not only give New Delhi a unique position in the COVID-19 vaccines race, but also promises good dividends for Russia. Since quality control and production volume in India are rather high, Russia should seek to sign contracts with the largest number of Indian companies for producing a maximum number of Sputnik V batches, which will be also considered as reliable due to India, he explained.

Certainly, international interest in the Russian vaccine was huge before its production plans in India. Such countries as Bolivia, Algeria, Venezuela, Paraguay, Hungary, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Turkmenistan and Pakistan have already registered Sputnik V. Belarus, Argentina and Serbia have also launched vaccination drives of citizens with it. However, further promotion of the vaccine in South Asian markets will do good, Izvestia writes.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington seeks to reset ties with Iran, not Russia

The US Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as Secretary of State surprisingly without difficulty. The first statements and expected personnel decisions of the new top US diplomat will provide an idea on the Biden administration’s future foreign policy course. Significant changes are expected in US relations with Iran, which will be overseen in the State Department by the team, which drafted the 2015 nuclear deal under Barack Obama. Concerning ties with China and Russia, Biden and Blinken have decided to take a cautious pause.

In contrary to many forecasts, the new Secretary of State did not act as a revisionist of the Trump-Pompeo foreign policy track. Blinken said nothing in particular on how US relations with the European Union will change. After Biden signed a decree to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, what Brussels had waited for, the White House apparently decided that was enough for changes in relations with the EU.

However, Blinken fully backed Trump on three key points of his foreign policy course. First, he named China a top threat to the US, thus dismissing suggestions that a thaw in relations with Beijing would start under the new White House. He also confirmed that the US Embassy would remain in Jerusalem and that means that the new administration won’t backtrack on recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. Third, the State Department is planning to continue Trump’s efforts aimed at ensuring the Jewish state’s recognition by the Arab world.

As for Russia and China, judging by Blinken’s remarks, the US will adhere to limited cooperation - this means cooperation only in certain areas, and with regards to Russia, this is arms control. As for the rest, at present, the Biden administration is determined to collect information and evaluate any threats posed by Russia. All this looks like the policy of broad mutual concessions and establishing personal contacts between the two countries’ leadership (which is reminiscent of George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the beginning of their presidential terms).


Izvestia: Turkey mulls new offensive against Kurds as rift divides Syrian opposition

A new round of meetings of the Small Group of the Constitutional Committee kicked off in Geneva with the goal of drawing up the country’s key legislation. The fifth session is being held behind closed doors and will last until January 29. This comes amid mounting discord within the Syrian opposition. The Kurds were not represented in the Constitutional Committee and its Small Group. There was an idea to include delegates from the main Syrian Kurdish force, the Syrian Democratic Forces in the committee. Meanwhile, Turkey, which has great influence on the Syrian opposition, is categorically against this move, Izvestia writes.

Together with Moscow and Tehran, Ankara is overseeing the work of the Constitutional Committee. However, despite Turkey’s discontent, there are no plans to abandon this idea. Ankara views any steps by the Kurds towards forming an autonomous or federative region as a separatist tend threatening its own national security, said orientalist Andrey Ontikov. "Meanwhile, the Turks see that the attempts to establish dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds have been stalled and there is no talk on returning the territories to the east of the Euphrates under control of the Syrian authorities, what’s more, the US is actively contributing to ensure that the current situation lasts. Naturally, Turkey is responding to this and that’s why we have seen three Turkish operations in Syria and probably, we will see more," he explained.

The deepening divide in the Syrian opposition only complicates the tense Geneva talks, according to the newspaper.

Research fellow at the Center for Oriental Studies Danila Krylov notes that while foreign countries seek to prevent any success of the Constitutional Committee, there will be no new Constitution in Syria. "What’s more, the Constitution won’t emerge unless the Kurdish issue is ironed out," he said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian authorities to consider Navalny’s ‘technical release’

Supporters of Alexey Navalny are sure that the Moscow District Court’s plans to consider an appeal against detaining the blogger on January 28 is a reaction to the upcoming Sunday protests. The demonstrations are expected to turn more radical. They will be held in the areas near the administration. Experts note that the authorities have two scenarios: either to "technically" release Navalny - and this means to confuse the plans of protesters - or to approve his arrest and clamp down on the rallies. Apparently, the situation has started unfolding under the second scenario, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. In Moscow, Navalny’s supporters are scheduled to hold protests outside the court’s building on January 28, but the key events are due on January 31. According to the map of Navalny’s headquarters, these events will take place in more than 70 Russian cities.

According to First Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin, "it’s evident that Navalny won’t be freed" and the sites of the rallies will be cordoned off. However, he expects that in any case fewer people will attend the event on January 31. Meanwhile, for the opposition itself, the number of demonstrators will be crucial. At the same time, leaving Navalny in custody until the State Duma election campaign bears certain risks: the opposition figure will look like a victim or a hero in the eyes of society.

Head of the Political Expert Group Konstantin Kalachev notes that on the one hand, releasing Navalny now would be beneficial for the authorities as this would clearly defuse tensions and reduce the number of protesters. On the other hand, leaving the opposition figure behind the bars will show that the authorities are not ready to make any concessions.


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