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Press review: UK says Russia ‘most acute threat’ and concerns over AstraZeneca jab mount

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 17

Izvestia: UK brands Russia ‘most acute threat’ to its security


On March 16, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson published the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy, which branded Russia "the most acute threat to [the UK’s] security." In the same document, London outlined its plans to expand its nuclear arsenal for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Experts quizzed by Izvestia think that such a step will only exacerbate the crisis in the sphere of arms control.

The UK considers Russia (14 mentions) and China (27 mentions) its systemic competitors, however, while London aims to maintain favorable trade and investment relations with China, Moscow remains "the most acute threat" to British security, the review says. The UK seeks to work with its NATO allies to ensure a united response by the West to Russia’s actions, combining military, intelligence and diplomatic activity.

"The steps outlined in the review will enable the UK to pursue a foreign policy offensive that will be justified by the need to defend itself against Russia," Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia. "We have built our foreign policy on the fact that for a long time we’ve had neither friends nor partners in the West. We do not encroach on the national interests of Great Britain or other countries, but we won’t allow them to infringe upon our own national interests. Meanwhile, the British doctrine tries to box in other countries, and even though the UK has full freedom to maneuver, the others get only permissible freedom."

Experts note that Brexit has played a key factor in determining the UK’s new foreign policy. It will now act in line with US foreign policy tenets.

The UK will move closer to the US since it is its traditional economic, political and cultural ally, David Lane, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, and an expert with the Valdai Discussion Club, told Izvestia. The shift in British military policy towards the Far East correlates with the trends of Washington’s policy on China, which the US sees as a threat to its hegemony, the expert said. On the whole, it can be expected that the UK will take a tougher stance on Russia and China, he added.


Izvestia: More countries suspend use of AstraZeneca shot over fears of side effects

Safety concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine remain. One by one, EU states are suspending the use of the jab due to its potential adverse effects. On March 16, Sweden, one of the countries where the vaccine was produced, joined this list, Izvestia reports. Experts say that so far, there are no grounds to assume that there is something wrong with the vaccine: similar measures are taken regarding drugs when there is the slightest concern over potential side effects not recorded in the past. AstraZeneca informed Izvestia that the number of cases of thrombosis among those vaccinated is lower than would be expected among the general population. However, a number of experts do not rule out disruptions of the technological processes during production and the appearance of some unknown elements in the vaccine’s composition.

So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has remained mum on the safety of the AstraZeneca jab. For its part, on March 18, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will hold a special session on the inoculation.

Some cases of a decreased platelet count have been recorded among young people within 14 days after getting a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is why a number of European states have decided to suspend the use of the jab to investigate the potential side effects, Yury Kiselev, Associate professor at OsloMet (Oslo Metropolitan University) and an expert in pharmaceuticals, told Izvestia.

"Such a decision is not out of the ordinary, such temporary measures are taken regarding drugs even when there is the slightest suspicion of some previously unknown side effects," he commented.

Just like all other registered vaccines put up for production, AstraZeneca has fully proven its safety, Director of Kazan Federal University’s Research Clinical Center for Precision and Regenerative Medicine Albert Rizvanov told Izvestia. "Even if we imagine that a large number of people get a saline shot, some percentage of them might die just because they felt stressed when coming to the hospital. Or they have some chronic diseases, namely cardiovascular diseases," the expert stated.

The researcher noted that the potential danger of COVID-19 outweighs the potential side effects of vaccination.

In light of these issues, Europe is becoming more interested in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. On March 15, PACE President Rik Daems said during a meeting with Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin that the EU regulator is considering the possibility of supplying Sputnik V to Europe. On the same day that Croatian officials confirmed the arrival of the documents for the Russian vaccine, the Swedish vaccination coordinator informed that Sputnik V might arrive in the Scandinavian country in June.

Giovanni Maga, Director of the Institute of Molecular Genetics (Italy), told the newspaper that it is important to wait for the results of the investigation into AstraZeneca. Nevertheless, he noted that Europe should already begin to expand its vaccine portfolio.


Kommersant: India left out of Moscow conference on Afghanistan

An international meeting on Afghanistan scheduled for March 18 in Moscow with the participation of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan, has sparked a scandal after India, which has strategic interests in Afghanistan, was left without an invitation to the event, Kommersant reports. Leading Indian media outlets have called on New Delhi to reconsider relations with Russia that currently have the status of "privileged strategic partnership." For its part, the US invited India to another forum on Afghanistan - a conference in Istanbul planned for March 27.

The pro-US lobby in India is calling on the Modi government to rethink traditional relations with Moscow and place its bet on the US instead.

Independent Indian expert Vinay Shukla told Kommersant that many in the Indian media and the expert community had seen the absence of an invitation for India to the Moscow talks on Afghanistan as a diplomatic catastrophe. This is a truly royal gift to the pro-American lobby in India, which is calling on Delhi to abandon the traditional relations with Moscow, he added.

Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov explained to Kommersant the reasons why India didn’t get that invitation. "The "expanded troika" consisting of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan was established based on the influence of all its participants on both conflicting sides in Afghanistan. For its part, India only has clout with one of the sides, and judging by this criterion, it wasn’t invited to the consultations in Moscow. In the future, when the peace process and the talks will carry on in a constructive manner, its composition can be expanded with the aid of major donors, and the "expanded troika" has stated this many times. Then the inclusion of India will be welcomed, of course."

Andrei Serenko, who heads the Russian Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, told the paper that the strengthening of US-Indian ties is inevitable after this incident. "However, it remains unclear what political preferences Russia can get out of this," he pondered.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israeli top diplomat visiting Moscow

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is arriving in Russia on March 17 to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov following Hezbollah’s visit to Moscow the day before. Russia’s stance is of special importance to Israel due to the recent escalation of tensions in Lebanon, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. Some reports suggest that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wishes to attain his pre-election goals with the help of Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry informed earlier that the ministers would be hashing over the situation in the Middle East and the regulation of hotbeds of tensions in the region.

On March 23, Israel will hold a snap parliamentary election, the fourth one in the past two years. According to the polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party is set to win the election, however, it is unlikely to get a parliamentary majority even by uniting with its allies. This may exacerbate the political crisis in the country. In the meantime, the Israeli PM is taking unconventional moves to boost his own popularity and the ratings of Likud. On Tuesday, Netanyahu said in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the country is planning to normalize relations with four more Arab states.

Expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Kirill Semenov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the statement by the Israeli PM is part of his election campaign. He noted that after the normalization of relations with the UAE and Sudan, as well as the peace treaty with Morocco, there will be a pause in the Arab world’s recognition of Israel. "There are no new candidates. Oman, which was named as the next country to recognize the Jewish state, it unlikely to go for it. It has good relations with Israel anyway. Saudi Arabia and Qatar will not move to open convergence with this country. They will only cooperate with Israel behind the scenes," Semenov stated.

However, Netanyahu’s statement in the run-up to Ashkenazi’s visit to Moscow may offer the impression to some voters that another diplomatic breakthrough is possible, for Russia has demonstrated an interest in Middle Eastern affairs. Israeli media widely commented on Lavrov’s recent tour, which included Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It was even suggested that Russia might act as a mediator in the improvement of Israeli ties with the Arab world. Nevertheless, Moscow has not made any statements on the matter.


Vedomosti: Russian economy overcomes coronavirus recession

The recession in Russian economy has ended, economic gurus at the HSE Center of Development Institute state based on the dynamic of investment. "Investments can be considered a barometer of the crisis," an issue of the center’s bulletin quoted by Vedomosti says.

According to official data, investment in 2020 sank 1.4% lower than 2019 on the whole, taking into account informal activity. The nominal volume of investment rose by 4.1% in a year, and the drop in real investment was tied to rising prices for products and investment services, the research suggests.

The research center also points out that a rise in GDP and investment was already documented in the third and fourth quarters of 2020. "The quarter-to-quarter GDP rose by 4.2% and 1.7%, and investment in fixed capital rose by 1.2% and 0.4%," the analysts estimated.

"It is safe to say that the recession has ended," Vladimir Bessonov from the HSE Expert Institute told Vedomosti. "Since the summer, we have been witnessing an intensive rise in production in the manufacturing industry, and the recovery of wholesale and retail trade, transport cargo turnover, investment activity."

Vladimir Salnikov from the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Range Forecasting agrees that Russia has left the period of recession. "Only the oil industry is hindering a full recovery now due to the OPEC+ deal," the expert told the newspaper. "The rest of the industries are showing growth, namely investment growth." According to the expert’s estimations, investment reached the pre-crisis level in November 2020. A number of industries that formally reported a decline in 2020 had a high level of investment activity, he pointed out that for example, investment in chemical production has decreased slightly compared to the high figures of previous years, however, the industry remains at the peak of investment activity.


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