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Press review: Russia, UK play game of ‘battleships’ and Taliban move on Tajikistan border

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, June 24th
British destroyer HMS Defender BatManS/Shutterstock/FOTODOM
British destroyer HMS Defender
© BatManS/Shutterstock/FOTODOM

Media: Russia and UK play game of ‘battleships’

NATO’s growing presence in the Black Sea has almost led to a direct encounter with Russia. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that the Black Sea Fleet and the Border Service fired at the British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender, which had illegally entered Russia’s territorial waters. The incident occurred near Cape Fiolent in Crimea. London claimed the warship was in Ukrainian waters, but chose to avoid escalation, saying that no warning shots were fired against the British warship. Meanwhile, the incident heightened tensions ahead of the Sea Breeze 2021 drills in the Black Sea, aimed at demonstrating the West’s support for Kiev, Kommersant writes.

"Obviously, the British tried to exercise their right to the so-called innocent passage through Russia’s territorial waters. However, the country-owner of territorial waters may limit this passage through certain sections, and on April 24 the Russian Defense Ministry issued a respective statement, which triggered the protest of NATO states," Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive and European Studies at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin told Kommersant. According to Kashin, "probably, the goal of the British move was to show that it does not recognize this statement in the same way that it does not recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea". The expert notes that Russia’s strong reaction was only to be expected, but nevertheless the incident is unprecedented.

Former Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva Sergey Ordzhonikidze also told Izvestia that this incident was unprecedented. "They showed to the British ship that the next bomb or missile could hit you," he explained. "Now there will be another dispute. We will submit a protest note, and they will do the same and insist that the defender was fulfilling the right for innocent passage as stipulated by the convention".

There have been no incidents like this with the British in decades, military historian Dmitry Boltenkov said. "Nothing like this has been seen in the world in recent years. If a ship enters territorial waters of another state, after the warnings it changes its course".


Izvestia: Taliban militants capture Afghanistan's main Tajikistan border crossing

Against the background of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) launched an offensive, capturing a number of areas bordering on Tajikistan, as well as a strategic border crossing Sher Khan Bandar. Some 134 Afghan troops fled to Tajikistan. Dushanbe is bracing for a further deterioration - an influx of refugees and attempts by Islamists to cross the border, Izvestia writes.

Experts say that the Taliban itself is unlikely to try to attack neighboring states, but other radical groups could flourish under its rule. Political scientist Azhdar Kurtov notes that the Taliban will start consolidating its power in Afghanistan now. "The group has many goals in the country, but this does not rule out possible problems for its neighbors. First, the flow of Afghan refugees could spill to the post-Soviet republics. Second, the Taliban could help radical Islamists, who are based in Afghanistan, but consist of descendants from the Soviet republics," the expert noted.

Head of the Central Asia Department of the Institute of CIS countries Andrey Grozin also believes that in the near future the Taliban will focus on struggling against the central government, and its ultimate goal is capturing Kabul.

"The US will give up its puppets and will pretend that nothing is happening. At the same time, other radical groups could become active in Afghanistan, which will pose a threat to Central Asia and countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. We should be prepared for such a scenario," the analyst warns.


Kommersant: Moscow security conference dominated by criticism of the West

The Conference on International Security organized by the Russian Defense Ministry opened in Moscow on Wednesday. This year, more than 100 states are taking part in it - either in-person or via a video link-up. However, there are almost no high-ranking Western military representatives among them, the US and the EU countries have been ignoring the Moscow forum for several years amid the Ukrainian conflict. The absence of opponents, however, did nothing to prevent the participants of the conference from voicing harsh criticism against them. Meanwhile, this time the event’s organizers did not play first fiddle, Kommersant writes.

The Moscow Conference on International Security is a good litmus test for Russia’s relations with various countries in the world, according to the newspaper. While Western countries have been fully ignoring the forum since 2014, the states, which are engaged in a conflict or confrontation with the West are active participants of this platform. This year, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe delivered a harsh speech, stressing that the chaos in the world was triggered by the steps of one power, which is using the policy of force, prioritizing its hegemony, unilateralism and interventionism. Although, he did not name this particular power, it was clear that he meant the United States.

Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin also devoted a significant part of his speech to criticizing the West. According to him, a "remaking of the world order" is underway, and Belarus has become "a small coin in a big game" and "a foothold in the struggle for Russia’s riches".

Against this background, the statements of Russia’s officials seemed to be rather mainstream and to some extent more reserved, the newspaper writes. Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov spoke about NATO’s growing activity near Russia’s borders, namely the alliance’s maritime forces. A couple of hours after this speech, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a British destroyer, the HMS Defender, had entered Russia’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.


Izvestia: Tehran refuses to hold direct contacts with Biden on nuclear deal

The end of another round of talks on the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal, which did not yield any clear result, and the election of the Islamic Republic’s new president could change the schedule of further steps aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi announced that Tehran was ready to return to the deal, but refused to hold personal contacts with US President Joe Biden, who had vowed to restore the deal as a foreign policy priority.

The outcome of the June 18 Iranian presidential vote, where conservative candidate Raisi secured victory as anticipated, raised questions over the prospects of settling the situation with the US return to the nuclear deal, Izvestia writes. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that the Biden team probably wants to get the terms of the deal reviewed before Raisi’s inauguration in late August and the subsequent rise to power of the new team of conservatives.

According to political scientist Farkhad Ibragimov, Raisi can certainly make harsh remarks on Western partners, in particular, the Europeans, who according to him, are not making any efforts to ensure the US return to the deal. Meanwhile, the president-elect "will act carefully and won’t look for trouble, and won’t give the US and the EU any reason to give up plans on returning to the JCPOA".

It’s in his interests to achieve an agreement, first of all in order to de-escalate tensions in Iranian society, which is facing a challenging situation now, the expert pointed out. Besides, the return of all participants to the JCPOA would give him extra political points - "if the conservatives manage to do this, they will be able to show that the attempts taken by the reformists and moderate forces to achieve this goal had failed".


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moldovan president to initiate meeting with Putin

The Republic of Moldova is gearing up for parliamentary polls, in which President Maia Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) is likely to secure victory, according to an online opinion poll. The head of the Republic of Moldova will form a pro-European government. After that, Sandu will initiate a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, leader of the Social and Democratic Party Viktor Shelin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to the politician, Sandu hopes for a positive response from the Kremlin.

"Sandu needs a success story. Without Putin she won’t achieve this," Shelin said. After forming her government, the Moldovan president will be able to discuss the $7.5 bln debt with Russia for gas. This Moldovan debt results from the non-payment by the Transnistrian region. At the meeting with Putin, Sandu also plans to discuss the development of economic and trade ties. However, she is not going to discuss Transnistria. According to Shelin, Sandu's PAS is set to win the election.

"After setting up the government, which she will control, Sandu will be able to initiate a meeting with Putin. She expects a positive response from the Kremlin because she announced plans to develop ties with Russia… After the Putin-Biden meeting Sandu finds herself in a beneficial situation as Washington won’t stonewall her meeting with Putin," Shelin explained.

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