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Press review: US sets sights on South Caucasus and Kiev fears possible US-Kremlin deal

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, June 11th

Izvestia: US sets sights on South Caucasus

The NATO summit will be held in Brussels on June 14. This time, the members of the alliance decided not to invite some countries — namely candidates for the bloc — Georgia and Ukraine. Despite this, the North Atlantic alliance assured Kiev and Tbilisi that they still have a chance for rapprochement, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker said during his tour of the South Caucasus’ countries. In addition to Georgia, so far, Reeker also visited Azerbaijan and Armenia. Experts told Izvestia that the countries of the South Caucasus occupy a serious place in US foreign policy, although it is not a zone of vital interests of the country.

Given the current situation, one of the goals of the visit by the US delegation could be to try to involve Georgia in the strategic initiative of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — creating a six-sided platform in the South Caucasus to develop cooperation, which would include Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. However, political scientists interviewed by Izvestia consider such scenario unlikely. "There is a rather hostile atmosphere in the region, so I don’t think that such a format is viable," orientalist and candidate of political sciences Larisa Aleksanyan said.

Senior Researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations Vladimir Avatkov told Izvestia that the platform proposed by Turkey has come to a standstill. "Taking into account the active expansion of NATO to the east and attempts to form an image of an enemy out of Russia, the United States is pursuing an active policy towards Ukraine and the South Caucasus. … The US strives to tear Transcaucasia away from Russia with Ankara’s hands. First of all, we’re talking about Azerbaijan and Georgia, but this can happen with Armenia, depending on how the elections are held there," the expert said.

Thus, countries of the South Caucasus occupy a serious place in US foreign policy, although it is not a zone of vital interests of the country, Aleksanyan added. "Washington regards the region as a springboard for ousting Russia from the Caucasus-Caspian region and preventing Iran from strengthening its positions. The importance of the South Caucasus in US foreign policy is also due to the hydrocarbon resources of this region and their transportation to Europe," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev fears deal between Washington and Kremlin

Ex-President of Ukraine Pyotr Poroshenko is demanding that the team of Vladimir Zelensky publicly announce a clear position on Crimea and Donbass before the Putin-Biden summit. Kiev fears that the presidents of Russia and the US will agree on the Ukrainian issue without taking into account the Ukrainian position, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Experts believe that such agreements cannot be fulfilled due to the opinions in Ukrainian society.

According to political analyst Alexander Kochetkov, Biden and Zelensky are scheduled for a meeting in July, after the current NATO summit and the Biden-Putin meeting. He fears that Ukraine will simply be presented with the agreed-on positions and will be made to adhere to them.

Poroshenko's team believes that chaos and unprofessionalism reign in Zelensky's office, and therefore Ukraine's western partners cannot always understand Kiev's official position. However, Zelensky has recently been demanding specifics from the West on the prospects for rapprochement with NATO. In fact, Zelensky's approach to the sequence of actions to resolve the conflict in Donbass also generally coincides with the position of Poroshenko’s team. Implementing all the points of the Minsk Agreements dedicated to ensuring security, and after that, the political points.

Expert at Democratic Initiatives Foundations Maria Zolkina noted that Zelensky's supporters on the issue of Donbass and Crimea have the same views as Poroshenko's supporters. The expert believes that such public opinion is important for diplomatic negotiations on Donbass. "The united position of those who support political opponents is a safeguard against any agreements on the surrender of Ukraine's interests. It is virtually impossible to impose on Ukrainian society any potential deal between the West and the Kremlin, which would call into question the status of Russia as an aggressor. People just won't accept it," she added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ankara becomes Bishkek’s alternative to Moscow

The issues of defense, security, and investments were in focus during the official three-day visit of President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov to Turkey, which will end on June 11. At a press conference in Ankara, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the country intends to further strengthen fraternal ties with Kyrgyzstan. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the most important thing for Bishkek today is to boost the economy and resolve issues related to the state border, and Turkey is one of the countries to discuss such issues.

Senior research fellow at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations Stanislav Pritchin told the newspaper that Japarov's visit to Ankara is taking place against the visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Tajikistan. "The top-level visits should be viewed through the prism of the border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the search for support in the international arena," Pritchin said.

The expert believes that one should hardly expect that Turkish investors will massively go to Kyrgyzstan and improve the situation with the investment climate in the country. In addition, he noted, there are no large industries and facilities for Turkish companies in Kyrgyzstan that would radically change the trade balance between the two countries.

"Ankara has sharply increased its activity in interacting with Islamic Central Asian countries. Bishkek is becoming an even more interesting partner for Ankara, given its gradually expanding military-political conflict with Dushanbe," foreign policy expert Grigory Trofimchuk told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Ankara is becoming a natural alternative to Moscow for Sadyr Japarov," he added.


Kommersant: US experts claim China is behind unprecedented hacker attacks on Russia

Experts from US IT company Sentinel Labs concluded that hackers from China were behind the unprecedented series of cyberattacks on the Russian government, recently reported by Rostelecom Solar and the FSB Coordination Center for Computer Incidents, Kommersant writes. Earlier, specialists from these two Russian structures only noted that the sabotage was carried out by cyber mercenaries pursuing the interests of a foreign state. Since 2015, an agreement has been in force between Russia and China in the field of cybersecurity, where the parties are not supposed to attack each other.

Sentinel Labs argues that it was not Western intelligence services, as many experts initially suggested, behind the attack on the Russian federal executive authorities, but a Chinese group codenamed ThunderCats, part of the larger TA428 group. The Americans base their conclusions on an analysis of the Mail-O malware used in these attacks.

A cybersecurity expert at Kaspersky Lab Denis Legezo told Kommersant that the public sector as a whole is one of the many areas of interest for Chinese-speaking attackers, but they are not limited to them.

Head of analytics and special projects at InfoWatch Group Andrey Arsentyev told the newspaper that lately, Chinese hackers have been actively attacking pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies.

In turn, Head of APT Research at Group-IB Anastasia Tikhonova told Kommersant that "Russian organizations regularly become targets of pro-government groups around the world, including China." "According to our report, the largest number of active pro-government groups is concentrated in China, 23 in total," she said, adding, "The main goal of such groups is espionage. They gain access to confidential data of organizations and try to hide their presence as long as possible. There are cases when the attackers, being in the network, remained undisclosed for several years."


Izvestia: Number of new coronavirus cases in Russia on the rise

The daily number of new coronavirus cases registered in Russia has returned to the level of the end of February. On June 10, 11,699 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the country. In order to stop the growing incidence, it would be necessary to vaccinate at least 35 mln people, experts told Izvestia.

The increase in the incidence rate may be associated with the start of the vacation season, infectious disease specialist and vaccinologist Evgeny Timakov told Izvestia. "We will have an increase in morbidity until the population either gets vaccinated or gets sick in a serious form," he warned.

It is wrong to conclude that we are on the verge of a new rise in morbidity, Deputy Director for clinical and analytical work of the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology of Rospotrebnadzor Natalya Pshenichnaya told Izvestia. "Many people continue to ignore precautions, do not realize the need for vaccination, which contributes to the virus circulating among the population. If these circumstances persist, then the periodic rises in the incidence rate are understandable," she said, adding that cool, rainy weather can aid various respiratory viruses.

The situation will be corrected by the acceleration rates of vaccination, Head of the genomic engineering laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Pavel Volchkov told the newspaper. "According to our data, Sputnik V is one of the most effective vaccines in the world. This conclusion, in particular, came after its mass testing in Hungary. If over the summer we can reach the threshold of 35-40 mln vaccinated people in Russia, this will allow us to calmly survive the fall, and in fact, stop the pandemic," he said.

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