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Press review: Moscow, Ankara launch Turkey’s nuclear plant and compete for Afghan peace

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, March 11
Russia's President Vladimir Putin taking part in a ceremony to launch construction of third unit of Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant  Alexei Druzhinin/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin taking part in a ceremony to launch construction of third unit of Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant
© Alexei Druzhinin/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

Izvestia: Putin, Erdogan launch construction of third unit of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant

The construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant will significantly enhance Turkey’s energy security and help advance the country’s further economic growth as well as provide consumers with cheap and environmentally friendly electric power, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated at a ceremony marking the launch of building the third unit of the NPP in Turkey’s Mersin Province on Wednesday. The construction of last facility, unit four, is due to kick off as early as in 2022. So, Turkey’s first NPP should start working by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the republic’s foundation. Experts told Izvestia that the project is important in economic, environmental and political terms. It actually strengthens relations between Moscow and Ankara and also boosts Russia’s positions in the region.

The Turkish leadership has huge energy plans, and they boil down to two tracks: reducing energy imports and becoming a vital hub for Europe, said Deputy Director General of the Institute of National Energy Alexander Frolov. According to him, the plant’s construction will help achieve both these goals. "As for Russia, the Akkuyu NPP is another successful international project in the field of nuclear energy. Our country is one of very few world leaders in this area," the expert said.

Deputy Director of Alpari’s Analytical Department Natalya Milchakova notes that Akkuyu’s construction will help Turkey achieve several objectives: first to increase its share of electricity produced from environmentally friendly sources and decrease the share of coal, and second, to reduce dependence on importing coal from third countries. "Russia is helping Turkey as a rapidly-developing country to meet its growing demand for energy resources. From economic and environmental perspectives, this cooperation benefits both sides. Rosatom offers safe energy reactors, which have all the required certification from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and since Rosatom is the key investor in the project, its construction is basically not being paid for by Turkish taxpayers," she explained.

In political terms, the Akkuyu NPP project is a symbol of common interests and friendly relations like the joint gas pipeline TurkStream. Strengthening economic and military cooperation with a NATO state certainly boosts Russia’s positions in the region. "In general, Moscow keeps bolstering its authority in the region and is increasing its influence," said leading analyst of QBF investment company Oleg Bogdanov.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia, Turkey compete for Afghan peace accord

Russia is getting ready for the March 18 expanded meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan, which should involve representatives of both Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan, as well as both parties to the armed conflict, including delegates from the Taliban movement (outlawed in Russia). It’s interesting that this meeting is due to take place a week before the peace conference on Afghanistan under the UN auspices in Turkey. So, there is reason to suggest that there is some rivalry involving the international negotiating platforms, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Istanbul is expected to host the talks on March 27, Afghan TV channel Tolo News reported. The choice of Turkey as a venue is apparently one of the latest initiatives of the Biden administration. The goal of this event is to create an inclusive Afghan government with the participation of both parties to the armed conflict. Besides, Washington seeks to reduce violence for three months and then to establish a ceasefire.

Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and Valdai Club expert Richard Weitz notes that in its Afghan policy, Moscow has been cultivating a variety of local and international partners in order to gain influence and a position in post-NATO scenarios. Since 2015, the Russian government has been supporting official relations with the Taliban. "These contacts serve the immediate goal of strengthening Russia’s influence and in the meantime safeguard it from the risks linked to a Taliban victory after NATO’s exit." According to the expert, the Taliban and Russia share one goal - to demonstrate that they have diplomatic alternatives and that they seek the pullout of all foreign armed forces from Afghanistan.

"At the same time, the upcoming conference will seem to be a continuation of this propaganda effort. This could open up avenues of cooperation with the US in the long run, but Moscow’s clout in the region will seem to be as limited as all the others. As long as the Taliban and the Afghan government remain divided, peace will be elusive," the expert pointed out.


Kommersant: Kiev’s new peace initiative surprises Moscow

Kiev's new plan for ironing out the Donbass crisis was met with skepticism in Moscow. On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin signaled that they heard about this initiative for the first time. Earlier, the Office of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky stated that a new roadmap proposed by Paris and Berlin for Kiev was ready. This is a "very powerful step" that will be discussed in late March by advisers to the Normandy Four (Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany) leaders. The Ukrainian head of state also announced that groundwork was being laid for a Normandy Four summit. However, this news came as a surprise for Moscow, Kommersant writes.

President Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andrey Yermak said several "clusters" would be created, which could lay foundation for a roadmap on establishing peace in Donbass, returning the "occupied territories" and holding local elections. Vladimir Fesenko, who heads the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, told the newspaper that these clusters most likely meant "some interconnected issues, which could lay the foundation for a compromise."

Speaking about the new Ukrainian plan, the expert suggested that this could be a new version of a roadmap on fulfilling the Minsk agreements. According to envoy of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic to the Contact Group’s political subgroup Rodion Miroshnik, this is not the first such document proposed by Kiev. "There is a principal problem: Ukraine is busy stirring up tremendous activity and introducing various documents in different negotiating formats," he said.

Meanwhile, the situation in Donbass deteriorated and neither Kiev nor the self-proclaimed Donbass republics are hiding this. According to Miroshnik, since February 28, the shelling there has substantially intensified.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko noted that no agreements were reached on the summit since all key conditions necessary for arranging such a summit had not been met. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that any meeting, especially at the highest level, should be well-prepared and in this case the best preparation should be fulfilling the earlier achieved agreements.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, Chinese top officials gear up for first comprehensive talks

Washington and Beijing are discussing the details of the Biden administration’s first meeting between both superpowers’ high-ranking officials. The preparations for this event are classified. Neither Beijing nor Washington has officially confirmed that the 2+2 meeting would be held in the city of Anchorage, Alaska. According to media reports, both sides are interested in these talks, especially given the fact that despite the pandemic, bilateral trade is increasing.

Acting Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies Alexey Maslov believes that the meeting will take place given that both sides are interested in it. "Despite the worsening political relationship, over the past two months Chinese exports to the US climbed 21%. So, the sides are boosting trade rather than decreasing it. So exacerbating tensions while both economies require better relations would be simply unreasonable."

Apparently, Biden also seeks to show that his policy on China differs from former President Donald Trump’s course. Biden wants to demonstrate that he is ready for constructive dialogue with China if Beijing takes into account Washington’s demands, the expert said. According to the commentator, the issue of the so-called second part of the economic agreement is becoming more relevant. The first part was signed before the pandemic erupted in January 2020.

The expert notes that China still has a great interest in the US since it does not want to lose the American market. "The most vulnerable issue is Chinese technologies, which the US is in no way willing to allow into Western markets. It’s practically impossible to agree on this, and that’s why the issue of trade is becoming the most important one," Maslov emphasized.


Izvestia: One-third of Russians immune to coronavirus, virologist says

One-third of Russian citizens could be resistant or partially immune to COVID-19, as they have been exposed to other respiratory coronaviruses, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ associate member, and Head of the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University’s (MSMU) Martsinovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases, Alexander Lukashev said in an interview with Izvestia.

"A study carried out in Germany showed that there were people who had cellular immunity to coronavirus even before the pandemic, that is, a third of the total population. More precisely, a third of the surveyed group, but it was quite large. We can assume that in Russia there is also a third of such citizens," the expert told the newspaper.

According to Lukashev, one does not know what this means in practice - whether these people do not get infected at all or they suffer from a mild case of the coronavirus disease. The Russian virologist specified that such citizens had cells that are able to recognize and kill ones infected with coronavirus. He also noted that it was unknown to what extent these people contributed to herd immunity.

Lukashev also stated that Russia’s herd immunity could be developed by August 2021. "It is absolutely real, and in big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg we can reach these deadlines earlier," the expert noted.


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