Media: Russia seeks to break deadlock in relations with India
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit India on Monday as part of his Asian tour that will also include Pakistan. The New Delhi talks are expected to pave the way for a Russia-India summit that was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Indian Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma told Kommersant that an important breakthrough would take place in terms of bilateral relations. However, Lavrov’s mission is not going to be easy because relations between the two countries are facing an increasing number of risks, which particularly include the Chinese factor test.
According to Rajesh Rajagopalan, a professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Russia’s stance is largely based on confrontation with the West. It makes Moscow rely on Beijing more, while India finds itself in a vulnerable position because of its dependence on Russian arms supplies, the expert noted.
"Relations have been stalled for the past ten years. Economic ties are at suffering in particular. The Soviet Union used to be one of India’s top three economic partners, but Russia barely makes it into the top twenty," Moscow State Institute of International Relations Professor Sergei Lunev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "There also are some positive aspects. For instance, cooperation is underway on the Sputnik V vaccine. India will produce it in larger amounts than Russia itself. Defense cooperation remains a cornerstone of relations and progress continues here on all tracks, from the S-400 systems to small arms. Russia accounts for half of India’s weapons exports," the expert emphasized.
Kommersant’s sources in New Delhi point to the crucial difference between Russia-India and Russia-China relations. Closer ties between Moscow and Beijing mostly stem from the two countries’ common negative agenda with the United States, but there is neither a negative agenda nor related damage in terms of Moscow’s relations with New Delhi, an informed source said.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukraine continues military build-up in Donbass
Ukraine has deployed more offensive forces to Donbass. Analysts say that military activities may resume in the region in the near future. Meanwhile, Kiev is gearing up for NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 drills, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Political scientists emphasize that if an open military conflict breaks out, Russia will face extremely harsh sanctions. However, Moscow is clearly gearing up for a possible war or an armed conflict along the western front by deploying troops and military hardware to Crimea and the border with Donbass. According to experts, the goal is to display the Russian Armed Forces’ military strength and readiness to protect Russia’s interests.
Head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Denis Pushilin has emphasized that "the number of volunteers willing to come to Donbass has grown in recent days."
"It certainly is propaganda but the truth is that there are a lot of Russian people, not only in Russia, who are ready to help Donbass," military expert Colonel Nikolai Shulgin noted. In his view, Pushilin’s statement can be considered to be "part of a project based on the pattern of Russia’s policy aimed at containing Kiev's aggressive aspirations," he said.
Meanwhile, Kiev's activities indicate plans to use military force in order to get Crimea and Donbass back. Ukraine’s Representative to the Contact Group on Donbass Alexei Arestovich said that the Defender Europe 2021 exercise, set to take place in May and June, was important for practicing ways to wage a war against Russia.
"The start of NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 drills clearly corresponds with Kiev’s possible plans to launch military activities in Crimea and Donbass, which the media have made public," military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev stressed. "I don’t rule out that Kiev will сarry out a primary attack on Donbass in May or perhaps in early June," he added.
Media: Jordan facing political crisis
Overseas analysts view the current developments in Jordan either as a coup attempt or a conflict within the royal family. The king's half-brother Prince Hamzah bin Hussein has been placed under house arrest, and dozens have been taken into custody, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The United States and Jordan’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, have expressed support for King Abdullah II. "King Abdullah has always relied on Saudi Arabia. There are no signs of a conflict between the two countries since there are no religious differences between them," Head of the Europe - Middle East Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Alexander Shumilin pointed out.
The assumption that it is about a conflict in the royal family seems to be credible. When King Hussein bin Talal died in 1999, his older brother Prince Hassan was expected to take the throne but neither influential members of the royal family nor the country's allies - first and foremost, the United States - supported him and as a result, Abdullah became King and his brother Hamzah was named Crown Prince. Abdullah gave the title of Crown Prince to his son Hussein in 2004. Perhaps, Prince Hamzah's arrest is the continuation of the long-term family dispute.
Orientalist scholar Alexandra Appelberg told Vedomosti that it was wrong to view the current developments as a coup. The army and law enforcement agencies haven’t taken the side of the alleged rebels so it is much more likely that the arrest of senior state officials is part of a domestic struggle for power. According to Appelberg, there is no reason to talk about foreign interference. The situation points to the problems that Jordan is facing, primarily economic ones. "The country’s unstable economic situation only deteriorated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the kingdom strongly depends on external assistance, particularly from the International Monetary Fund," the expert explained.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tehran boosts cooperation with Beijing, Moscow to nullify Western sanctions
After signing a strategic pact with China, Iran will come up with an initiative to sign a large-scale agreement with Russia as well. The Iranians explicitly state that they seek to neuter Washington’s policy of maximum pressure with the assistance of China and Russia. However, Moscow may confine itself to the political content of a future agreement with Tehran, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Experts have different views on the possibility of such a strategic document between Iran and Russia. The existing ones are enough for enhancing economic ties.
The Treaty on the Basis for Mutual Relations and the Principles of Cooperation between Russia and Iran, which marked its 20th anniversary in March, provides for boosting relations further, noted Alexander Mikhailenko who heads the Department of Global Security and Foreign Policy Activities at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. "At the current stage, the focus may be on political and strategic aspects rather than on economic ones," he added.
Russia and Iran won’t make a deal similar to the one that Tehran has signed with Beijing, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Sazhin said. "Russia simply cannot afford to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into Iran’s economy," he explained.
"Iran’s relations with Russia are influenced by numerous factors, from historical to today’s political and economic ones. Despite the strong statements that Iranian officials make, I would describe Russian-Iranian relations as a partnership based on the current situation rather than as strategic ties. Even if Russia and Iran reach a strategic agreement, it will be important first and foremost from a political standpoint and not an economic one. The document will hardly provide a boost to economic relations between the two countries," Sazhin emphasized.
Izvestia: Ruble's exchange rate may become more realistic
Hopes that Russia’s ruble will rise at the beginning of the year have been dashed. Despite relatively good fundamentals - from the Russian economy’s recovery rate to oil prices - the national currency remained volatile. The situation will be uncertain in the second quarter of the year, too, said experts interviewed by Izvestia.
"The risk of sanctions is the main thing that prevents the Russian currency from strengthening," Finam analyst Andrei Maslov noted. "Many analysts believe that the ruble is underrated because with oil prices above $60 per barrel, the Russian currency is still weak against the dollar and the euro, which is the result of a serious lack of investor trust based precisely on geopolitical risks," the expert explained. According to him, the ruble will strengthen over the course of the year, provided that oil prices remain above the $60 level and no tough sanctions are introduced.
Gazprombank Chief Economist Sergei Konygin points out that geopolitical uncertainty, the Finance Ministry’s demand for foreign currency and increasing oil production within the OPEC+ deal remain the major factors that influence the Russian ruble’s exchange rate. "All in all, there will be numerous influencing factors that will lead to the increased volatility of the national currency in 2021. If there is no rise in political tensions, the ruble may climb to 73-74 per dollar at today's oil prices," the expert added.
Fundamentally, the ruble is bound to strengthen, Chief Economist at the Expert RA rating agency Anton Tabakh emphasized. "Oil prices are comfortable and key rates have grown but fears of sanctions are preventing growth. We expect the ruble to move towards the 72 per dollar mark," the analyst concluded.
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