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Press review: Will Biden back down on Nord Stream 2 and how Iran will affect OPEC+

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, May 20th

Izvestia: Germany counting on Biden’s common sense regarding Nord Stream 2 project

German authorities would harm their country’s interests if they ditched the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, a member of the Bundestag for foreign policy issues from the ruling CDU/CSU faction Jurgen Hardt told Izvestia. After realizing that the pressure on its Trans-Atlantic partner would not disrupt the Russian-European project, the US refused to slap restrictions. That is according to American media reports saying that the Biden administration planned to postpone the sanctions against the gas pipeline’s operator Nord Stream 2 AG. However, other new measures will still come into effect, targeting just four vessels engaged in the pipeline’s construction. Meanwhile, in spite of the media reports, late on May 19, the State Department announced that it was ready to use all possible tools to impede the construction of Nord Stream 2.

According to German political scientist Alexander Rahr, Berlin had maintained a tough stance on Nord Stream 2 all this time and in its turn, the United States understood that it’s impossible to restart its friendship with European allies by employing sanctions against Western companies. "Nord Stream 2 will have been built by November this year in any case. Washington tried to stop the project, but realized that this would only lead to a major scandal with Germany and would not play into its hand," he told the newspaper.

First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov notes that regarding the pipeline’s fate, Nord Stream 2 is going to be a success and the German government will not abandon this project because this is about "economics and not politics." "This commercial project is vital for Germany and they are not hiding this. All American attempts to disrupt the construction through Germany were doomed to failure because despite all its commitments as part of the alliance, Germany sent a clear signal that Nord Stream 2 should not be targeted. So, the Biden administration refused to impose sanctions, otherwise this would look foolish."

As for the restrictions against four vessels, the senator noted that the US was trying to make a graceful exit from the game, by "snapping its teeth on the way out." However, these measures won’t affect the project’s implementation, the politician pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Experts cast doubt on any possible Hague trial against Lukashenko

Paperwork covering the actions of the Belarusian authorities have been forwarded to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Wednesday. This is not the first time that legal action has been put forward. However, this move comes up against the fact that Minsk does not recognize this court’s jurisdiction. The architects of this latest lawsuit recommend harking back to the experience of Myanmar, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

"The case files will be submitted by the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Global Diligence law firm and the Truth Hounds organization," Head of the Belarus Free Theater, Nikolai Khalezin, a public figure, wrote on his Telegram channel. The package of documents is based on the evidence of hundreds of victims and also documented audiovisual evidence, field investigation and open source data.

Meanwhile, Belarus has not signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and does not recognize this court’s jurisdiction. Moreover, Russia would not allow it to pass a bid at the UN Security Council. In his turn, Khalezin notes that in 2019, there was a similar precedent in Myanmar, which had not signed the Rome Statute either. The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC empowered a prosecutor to lead the investigation into crimes against humanity in that country on the grounds that the citizens who were targeted through violence were forced to emigrate to Bangladesh. This was compulsory emigration against one’s will and forced deportation, which is also now underway in Belarus. Belarusian citizens are moving to neighboring states such as Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine to escape the violence, and those who had a residence permit in Belarus are deported forcefully. "The only option is a case on forced emigration and forced deportation, where the UN Security Council’s decision is not needed, since the scenes of the crime are adjacent countries - Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine," Khalezin told the newspaper.

Earlier experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that they were skeptical over the prospects of a trial against Lukashenko at The Hague. Meanwhile, Lukashenko is seriously sensitive to these allegations and this could be viewed as a mechanism of psychological pressure, political scientist Valery Karbalevich said.


Kommersant: Erdogan picks up the mantle of the Palestinian struggle

The United States has accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of anti-Semitism. Against the backdrop of the war between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, the Turkish leader proved to be a fierce defender of the Palestinians, making harsh statements against Israel as well as the US and European states supporting it. Almost no Arab leaders, including the Palestinians, have made such emotional statements before, Kommersant writes.

Erdogan believes that he is the only one who is ringing the alarm over the conflict in Gaza. Last week, Ankara suggested convening an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the level of foreign ministers. Besides, Erdogan discussed the situation in the Middle East in a phone call with Pope Francis, emphasizing that the Israeli attacks targeted not only Palestinians, but also all Muslims, Christians and all of mankind.

Oytun Orhan, a researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM) in Ankara, notes that Turkey looks like "the world’s champion" in terms of criticism against Israel. The expert linked this to Turkey’s desire to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world and also the ideological affinity between the Justice and Development Party and Hamas. "Turkey has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood movement (outlawed in Russia). Hamas is its branch," the expert recalled. However, according to Orhan, Ankara can't do anything other than to make bombastic statements. "Turkey is practically alone in its efforts," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Ankara is not willing to spoil its relations with Israel since it wants to sign a treaty with it on the Eastern Mediterranean. This is of key importance given Ankara’s ambitions regarding gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran gears up for life without sanctions and wider oil prospects

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak has announced that over the past several months, the oil market has seen a deficit. However, soon the situation could drastically change once the sanctions against Iran are lifted. This is Tehran’s major demand in exchange for returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. This year, Iran could double oil production and send some 2-3 mln barrels per day for export. Meanwhile, this scenario could cause problems for the parties to OPEC+ deal. Oil prices may reel but experts hope that Iran’s comeback is unlikely to undermine Russia’s "budget rule," Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Russian Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said the negotiators were close to success. According to him, significant progress was made at the fourth round of talks in Austria’s capital and the negotiations would resume early next week. "We hope that the fifth round will be the last one."

If the situation develops under a favorable scenario for the deal and for Iran, how will this affect Russia? In case of the sanctions relief, Iran will be able to export 4.5 mln barrels per day within 2-3 months, and this could increase pressure on the oil market, noted Andrey Maslov, a Finam analyst.

"The additional 2 mln barrels per day would be an undesirable scenario of developments for Russia and for OPEC+ as the growing supply (given that since May, OPEC+ has taken the course for gradually boosting oil output) could negatively affect oil prices," said deputy chief of Alpari center Natalya Milchakova. According to her, this increase in supply could quickly plunge Brent prices to $58-60 per barrels.

Yevgeny Mironyuk, an analyst at Freedom Finance, notes that the possible growth in output by the end of the year "won’t be a shock for the oil market." However, he agreed that the OPEC+ deal’s participants will seek to engage Iran in the deal, and that would limit export growth.


Izvestia: Ransomware cyber-attacks around the world double in 2021

The number of companies, which were targeted by ransomware cyber-attacks in the first four months of 2021, more than doubled compared with the first half of 2020, said Check Point Research, a company based in Israel. Encryption programs have become the number one cyber threat to businesses and government agencies, experts told Izvestia. The perpetrators of these ransomware attacks were more active than expected and experts predict that the problem will spread to Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Frequently, ransomware cyber-attacks target the healthcare sector: one organization comes under 109 attacks per week on average, according to Check Point Research. The public utilities sector ranks second with 59 such incidents, while the sphere of insurance and legal services, with 34 attacks per week on one company, takes third place.

Among the countries most targeted, hackers most often attacked organizations in India - 203 times per week on average. The top five countries also include Argentina (104 cases), Chile (103), France (61) and Taiwan (50). Russia is at the end of the list with 1.9 incidents per company per week.

"It is expected that in 2021 the wave of attacks using encryption programs will target Russian businesses and penetrate the CIS. For example, Russia has already recorded attacks by OldGremlin (a Russian-language group, which last year attacked Russian banks, industrial enterprises, medical organizations and software developers)," said Oleg Skulkin, a senior digital forensic analyst at Group-IB.

"Troublemakers will continue inventing new and more sophisticated attacks in order to develop their business and steal large sums of money. And if companies fail to pay special attention to training their staff and beefing up their cyber security level in general, the volume of damage will rise," said Sergey Zabula, who heads the group of system engineers for work with partners at Check Point Software Technologies in Russia.

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