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Press review: Impact of US-NATO Afghan pullout on Central Asia and Tokyo’s endless talks

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 28

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ex-Soviet states to face new threats after US-NATO troops leave Afghanistan

The defense ministers of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries have held a meeting in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe in order to look into ways to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the situation in Afghanistan is worsening and potential military threats, in addition to other dangers, require appropriate responses, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The upcoming withdrawal of US and NATO troops is one of the reasons why the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Experts say that the export of instability from the country will grow as drug trafficking is expected to rise, along with terrorists infiltrating into Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and into Europe.

"If the Americans and other NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan, I don’t rule out that radical Islamist groups will grab full power there," retired Russian border guard Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Lapshov pointed out. "The southern CIS regions will probably have to face the threat of aggression, and new routes for smuggling opium and heroin into CIS countries and Europe will emerge," he predicted.

Head of the Research and Analytical Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Oriental Studies Nikolai Plotnikov noted that the Taliban controlled 85% of the Afghan areas where opium poppy is cultivated. Heroin production reached about 10,000 tonnes in the past three to five years, which is a headache for CIS countries.

Military expert Colonel Yuri Ivanov pointed to issues on the Turkmen-Afghan border. "Some believe that large amounts of drugs pass through Turkmenistan on their way from Afghanistan to Europe. The route lies through the Caspian Sea region, it encompasses Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan," the expert stressed. It is only possible to disrupt the route on the Caspian Sea and Russia’s southern border. This is a very complicated issue and it is Russia that will have to address it rather than the CSTO, Ivanov emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tokyo ready for endless talks with Moscow

The Japanese Foreign Ministry has issued its annual Diplomatic Bluebook report, which says that Tokyo will continue consultations with Russia based on the principle that the so-called "Northern territories" - the southern Kuril Islands - should be handed over to Japan, and after that, the two countries will sign a peace agreement, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies Valery Kistanov pointed out that "the Book reiterates once again that Japan’s sovereignty extends over all four islands."

The difference in the positions of Tokyo and Moscow is clear, the expert stressed. Japan says that it is ready to hold peace treaty talks based on a solution for the "Northern territories" issue, while Moscow states: "We aren’t in territorial talks with Japan, we are in talks regarding a peace treaty." The reasonable question is - what are the talks about after all?

"On the other hand, we don’t have other issues with Japan except the territorial one," Kistanov went on to say. "Investment talks are in progress. The Japanese are willing to take part in oil and gas projects in Russia’s north, on the Yamal Peninsula," he noted.

As far as Russia is concerned, Japan’s position has always been more flexible than the West’s. First, Tokyo does not want to be viewed as a country that the United States fully controls. Second, Japan is very much concerned about Russia’s close defense ties with China. "The Japanese are reluctant to facilitate these ties and seek to maintain smooth relations with Moscow," the commentator explained.


Izvestia: OPEC+ deal remains unchanged

The OPEC+ group's decision to maintain the terms of the oil output cut deal will make it possible to stabilize the market and keep oil prices at $62-68 per dollar, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. The main factors influencing the market will include the achievements in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the balance between energy supply and demand, analysts believe.

OPEC+ was particularly guided by reports of record spikes in new coronavirus cases in India, the largest market in the Asia-Pacific region, Amarkets lead analyst, Artem Deyev, emphasized.

"Oil prices will most likely remain at the current level, ranging between $64.5 and $67 per barrel. The global coronavirus situation and the US-Iran talks on resuming the 2015 nuclear deal will impact them," said Finam analyst Andrei Maslov.

If the United States lifts sanctions on Iran, supplies will surge, negatively affecting prices, Alpari Deputy Director Natalya Milchakova noted. Brent crude prices can be expected to remain at the $63-68 per barrel level in the coming month, she added.

Meanwhile, the balance between supply and demand is still crucial for the market, Deyev pointed out. Everything will depend on how soon countries can return to the previous levels of oil consumption, which is hard to predict amid the ongoing pandemic, the expert concluded.


Kommersant: Russia's election campaign to focus on foreign interference

In an address to the Council of Legislators of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin urged participants in the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for autumn to avoid cheap populism and prevent foreign interference in the election campaign. Experts point out that Western interference in Russia's domestic affairs is always a beneficial issue ahead of elections but voters are still more concerned about their everyday life, Kommersant writes.

Political Analysis Director at Social Marketing Institute Viktor Poturemsky pointed out that some voters already view the protest rallies as proof of the West’s election meddling. "It would be wrong for the authorities to ignore it," he noted.

Center for Political Technologies President Boris Makarenko, however, stressed that the authorities had so far put forward no specific evidence of foreign interference in Russia’s electoral proceedings. "The government is building propaganda around the need to protect the country from foreign interference regardless of election campaigns. However, I don’t see any facts," he noted. The expert believes that Russian voters are focused on their personal needs and concerns so the anti-Western propaganda does not have much impact on them.

Political scientist and former staff member of the presidential executive office Vladimir Shemyakin shares that opinion. He admits that the issue of foreign interference "is always beneficial" ahead of elections but it is too early to bring it up for the fall’s parliamentary election campaign. "Perhaps, it is a message for overseas audiences and not for the domestic one," the expert said.


Izvestia: Russia keeping up de-dollarization efforts

Russia has taken another step on the way to de-dollarization. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the dollar’s share in the country's export fell below 50% for the first time in history. However, the ruble’s share did not grow, while the euro came close to becoming the dominant currency as it is considered to be the safest one, given the risk of sanctions, Izvestia writes.

Discussions of the need to reduce the dollar’s role in foreign trade have been going on in Russia for about 20 years, but they ramped up after 2014, when sanctions were imposed on the country. At that point, the dollar’s share in Russia’s export of goods and services ranged between 75-80%. Several agreements on trade in national currencies were reached later, though things really got underway only in 2017, when the greenback’s share began to decline quite quickly. In the second quarter of 2020, it fell below 60% for the first time and went down to 48% by the end of the year.

Univer Capital analyst Sergei Drozdov believes that Russia cannot make a direct economic profit by replacing the dollar with the euro. However, Washington’s policy based on the use of the dollar as a tool of economic coercion forces many countries to look for an alternative to replace the greenback.

"For Russia, the policy aimed at reducing the dollar’s impact on the national economy became particularly relevant in light of the United States’ regular moves to introduce sanctions, and since the White House does not seem willing to ease pressure, de-dollarization efforts will continue," Drozdov emphasized.


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