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Press review: Borrell under fire for Moscow tour and US, Iran stick to their guns on JCPOA

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, February 9
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/TASS
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
© Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/TASS

Izvestia: EU top diplomat comes under fire after visit to Moscow

The European Union is likely to impose new sanctions on Russia over the Navalny case following the unsuccessful visit to Moscow by its top diplomat Josep Borrell, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. Borrell faced criticism in the EU, where his trip was deemed to be a failure.

Of all Russian high-ranking officials, only Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with Borrell. The EU top diplomat spent the rest of his time in Moscow in meetings with members of NGOs and the academic community. At a joint press conference, Lavrov castigated the EU as an unreliable partner, while Borrell repeated the usual EU rhetoric without confidence. In the middle of his visit, Moscow expelled three diplomats from the German, Polish and Swedish embassies, saying that they had attended unauthorized rallies in Navalny’s support.

The EU foreign policy chief made far harsher statements upon his return to Brussels. According to him, the tough tone Russia took at the press conference and the expulsion of European diplomats make it clear that the Russian authorities are unwilling to build a more constructive dialogue with the European Union.

There was no positive reaction to Borrell’s Moscow tour in the European media. An EU diplomatic source told Izvestia that there was no improvement in sight in terms of EU-Russia relations.

Borrell announced that on February 22, the foreign ministers of the EU would discuss sanctions against Russian individuals over human rights violations.

"The officials the EU deems to be involved in the Navalny case are highly likely to face individual sanctions. In this case, it would be a political move with no consequences for the Russian economy. However, if they blacklist big businessmen, it will affect markets more," said Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Ivan Timofeev. "The EU will hardly do that at the moment, though," the expert added.


Kommersant: US, Iran determined to stick to their guns on nuke deal

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has spoken and said that Tehran will only return to compliance with the nuclear deal if Washington lifts its unilateral sanctions. For his part, US President Joe Biden made it clear that the sanctions against Iran would be removed only after Tehran stopped enriching uranium. This exchange of statements came two weeks before Tehran’s ultimatum is set to expire. Iran demands that the sanctions be lifted, cautioning that otherwise it will cut back cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kommersant notes.

"Iran has no other option as a result of the policy of maximum pressure," Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said, addressing the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Monday. He indicated that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program had brought nothing but sanctions to Tehran and his country did not want to repeat the experience.

President Biden pledged to return to the JCPOA during his election campaign but did not specify any conditions for the move. According to the US media, the Biden team has not yet finalized its strategy on Tehran. Washington is considering options to ease Iran’s financial burden without lifting major sanctions.

"As long as Iran and the United States hold talks through journalists, there will be no progress in terms of the US returning to the JCPOA," Adlan Margoyev of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations emphasized. "It was the principle of phased mutual steps that Russia had put forward ahead of the JCPOA talks that made it possible to find solutions to the situation. And now that the parties already have a 154-page agreement, they need to remember the principle and launch a dialogue that would allow them to develop a phased plan of action behind closed doors," the expert explained.

He also highlighted Ghalibaf’s words that Iran would let the United States choose what to do and was prepared for any kind of developments.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China to punish countries boycotting Beijing Olympics

With just a year to go before the Beijing Olympics kick off, political wrangling over the event is exacerbating. A group of US senators has demanded the International Olympic Committee strip China of the right to host the games. Two lawmakers in the UK called on British athletes to boycott the Olympics. In addition, more than 180 human rights groups have joined the campaign, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Washington’s accusations concerning the human rights situation in the Xinjiang autonomous region pose the biggest danger to China. Beijing rejects the genocide allegations as brazen lies, saying that its policy towards Xinjiang is aimed at fighting poverty and preventing extremist and radical ideals from spreading. However, apart from the US and the UK, politicians in Australia and Canada have also begun to talk about the need to refrain from sending athletes to Beijing.

So, what will China do to protect the Olympics? The Beijing-based Global Times newspaper said that the Asian superpower was facing a serious challenge and if any country decided to boycott the Beijing Games, China would retaliate with a crushing response. The newspaper’s chief editor took to Twitter to elucidate that China would punish its enemies with sanctions.

Acting Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies Alexey Maslov pointed out that "it’s not the first time that the issue of sanctions has been raised with regard to calls for boycotting the Olympics." "What kind of sanctions are possible? First, higher tariff barriers for a number of countries that export their goods to China. Some US politicians calling for restrictions against Beijing may face sanctions. In addition, Beijing may limit the activities of US and other foreign companies in China. There is little chance that many countries will oppose the Olympics, though the United States will see it as a news opportunity to put pressure on China," the expert emphasized.


Media: Oil prices climb back to pre-COVID level

Brent crude futures for April reached the $60-per-barrel benchmark on February 8 for the first time since January 2020, Vedomosti notes.

Market players are brimming with enthusiasm, which will keep pushing up prices for the Black Gold in the coming days, Managing Expert at PSB bank Ekaterina Krylova predicted. At the same time, market participants will, for now, ignore risk factors, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. "Prices will continue to grow until late February, but then the euphoria will slightly subside. The fundamentally justifiable price level is about $55 per barrel," the expert added, according to her, the market will face an oversupply in the second half of the year, which will largely come from US shale oil producers.

Despite a rise in demand for the Black Gold in China - the world’s largest importer of oil - global demand remains weak, Fitch Corporations Department Director Dmitry Marinchenko pointed out. This is why oil prices are bound to start falling in the near future, he said.

Higher vaccination rates in developed countries and the well-coordinated actions of the OPEC+ countries are the main reasons behind the current rise in prices, QBF analyst Ksenia Lapshina told Izvestia. "More vaccines are being approved and put into use," the expert noted.

"The $60-per-barrel [mark] looks like a certain limit for oil prices. There has been a lot of positive news for the energy market since the beginning of the year, which has impacted prices," AMarkets Analytics Department Chief Artem Deyev explained. According to the analyst, it’s not the actual situation on the market that the current increase in prices reflects but hopes for a future rise in consumption.


Izvestia: Coronavirus pandemic impacts charitable activities

Charitable organizations have come up against financial problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. Money issues due to the COVID crisis forced donors to tighten their belts and purses, but there is still hope for a better future, Izvestia writes.

The current difficulties haven't quashed compassion. For instance, the Orthodox help service Mercy saw a rise in donor activities in April 2020. "In spite of these hard times, the average monthly donations rose by ten million rubles ($135,000)," head of the service’s charitable programs Vladlena Kalashnikova noted.

"However, we saw a decline in the activities of our friends in the fall… Usually, we expect a surge in December but it didn’t happen this time," Kalashnikov added. According to her, the service "managed to close the year smoothly thanks to our reserves and significant government assistance."

Director of a charity project Ilya Kuskov believes that a new, humane society may emerge in Russia through the development of non-profit organizations and a large-scale volunteer movement focused on helping others.

"People who want to make themselves useful come here every week," said Father Ioann, who heads the volunteer service at Mercy. "Clearly, not all of them stay. However, there are enough people who wish to be useful and share their love," the priest said, adding that Russia’s government should consider ways to boost the volunteer movement in order to engage a large number of youngsters.


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