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Press review: Tajikistan mobilizes as Afghan troops retreat and is OPEC+ going to collapse

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, July 6th

Vedomosti: Tajikistan mobilizes troops after Afghan forces retreat to its territory

More than 1,000 Afghan troops had retreated on July 4-5 to Tajikistan after clashes with fighters from the Taliban radical movement (outlawed in Russia), Tajikistan’s border service reported on July 5. The right to cross the border was provided to them "in accordance with the principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs," yet, Dushanbe is not revealing what will happen to the Afghan servicemen next, Vedomosti reports. The first group of 134 Afghan troops who crossed the border last week was sent back to Afghanistan, the Tajik border service informed.

The Tajik border service assures that the situation in the areas where Afghan troops are located is under their full control. However, President Emomali Rahmon declared the mobilization of 20,000 troops from the country’s armed forces after these reports.

Andrey Kazantsev, a professor with the Higher School of Economics, told Vedomosti that so far, the situation does not pose a direct threat to Dushanbe. "There will be a threat to Tajikistan if the Taliban takes power or if total chaos emerges in Afghanistan.

That being said, the country is not far from a state of total chaos, unfortunately," Kazantsev noted. According to the expert, if the situation in Afghanistan further deteriorates, hundreds or even thousands Islamist fighters will try to cross the border with the aim of destabilizing Tajikistan. There is no threat of a large-scale war, though, and the conflict is likely to be of low intensity, the expert said.

At this point, Russia is bound to hand over its equipment and arms, including cars, to the Tajik army to help Dushanbe mobilize its troops, military expert Viktor Murakhovsky told the paper. There is no direct threat from the Taliban, and only a major invasion will force Russia to adhere to its obligations to Tajikistan, the expert said.

Mobilizing 20,000 troops, considering that the Tajik army has about 12,000 active soldiers, and 20,000 law enforcement and border control officers, is a very difficult task for Tajikistan, a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry said, so material aid from Moscow will be required.


Izvestia: Why OPEC+ is on the verge of collapse

In the past six months, oil prices have shot up 50%, a high not seen since 2009. The June OPEC+ deal was supposed to decide the fate of the oil market, with the alliance expected to answer the burning question of how much oil will the world be getting starting in August. However, on Monday, after three days of negotiations, in an unexpected turn, the talks reached a dead end. Brent surged to $77 per barrel after this news, Izvestia informs. Observers fear that the OPEC+ deal may be on the verge of collapse.

The reason for that is the disagreement between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The UAE stated that the base level from which oil production has expanded since May 2020 should be revised.

Thus, so far, the OPEC+ quotas remain at the same level. After the failed negotiations, oil prices recorded a record surge, with Brent surpassing $77 for the first time since October 30, 2018.

"Due to the fact that the countries have failed to reach an agreement, investors began to suspect that there will be a deficit of fuel, so Brent went up to $77 per barrel. If there is no deal in the near future, and the current levels of production stay the same, it will be a positive factor for the market and oil producing countries, which includes Russia’s budget," head of the analytical department at AMarkets Artem Deev told Izvestia.

However, other scenarios are possible, two of which may cause oil prices to collapse, cautioned Mikhail Nikitin, an expert with Borsell. The first option is that the UAE remains dissatisfied with the current situation, no agreement will be reached, and the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the UAE will cause the Emirates to exit OPEC. This may lead to an "every man for himself" situation, dumping wars and a catastrophic drop in oil prices.

Another option is a deal between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, which does not want to increase production levels, but does not want to confront Russia directly. This may lead to high oil prices for some time, but is also poses a danger of the collapse of OPEC+ or a sharp rise in shale oil production in the US.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Saudis losing control of Yemeni conflict

Participants of the Yemeni conflict are backsliding into the past, with Houthi insurgents launching a missile strike on government formations in the southern part of the country despite the fact that they have concentrated on other areas in recent months. To make matters worse, government forces with the support of Saudi Arabia have renewed clashes with another force - separatists from the Southern Transitional Council, backed by the UAE, in spite of a deal signed between the parties some time ago, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.

The press service of the government forces reported in late June that the Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement had lost over 25,000 supporters in the fighting in the central part of the country. The head of the military media sector in the Yemeni army, Colonel Yahya Al-Hatami stated that in the same period, the Houthis lost about 4,000 military vehicles. The government army ties the resurgence of Ansar Allah directly to an order by the Iranian military leadership. According to Al-Hatami, the situation deteriorated after Iran’s new president was elected.

Under these conditions, Yemen remains a nagging headache for the Persian Gulf states who are trying to improve their relations with the Biden administration.

Experts quizzed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta do not consider the Houthis’ interest in the southern areas anything new. "The Southern Transitional Council has always been an enemy of the Houthis," expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Kirill Semenov told the paper. "There had been military operations on the southern front beforehand. It wouldn’t be correct to say that the south is a new direction for the Houthis." According to the expert, so far, there is nothing pointing to the start of a stable peace process in Yemen. "So, we can expect a continuation of military action in different directions," Semenov said. The analyst noted that this situation is the outcome of Saudi Arabia’s position in many ways, since it has been unable to reach a compromise with the Houthis.


Izvestia: Experts predict 22 new coronavirus mutations over next few months

In the next few months, there will be 22 new mutations of SARS-CoV-2, which are likely to spread across the world. American researchers with Vir Biotechnology and the Temple University Institute for Genomic and Evolutionary Medicine created a special model that predicts mutations in the spike protein of the virus, which cause it to slip away from a person’s immune system, Izvestia reports. The ability to predict how the virus mutates will help create vaccines for future strains faster, improve COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment methods with the use of antibodies and accurately predict the development of the pandemic. Experts interviewed by the paper stressed that the best protection against new mutation is immunity that humans form after vaccination.

Any mathematical model remains just a model without verification, Director of Kazan Federal University’s Research Clinical Center for Precision and Regenerative Medicine Albert Rizvanov told Izvestia. It is very hard to predict coronavirus mutations, as there needs to be a good understanding of how the virus interacts with other proteins in the cell, and researchers have not come to a conclusion on this matter so far, he said.

According to the specialist, the main problem that causes the appearance of mutated strains resistant to previous immunity is the low vaccination rate. "If we had a quicker vaccination rate, the virus wouldn’t have time to adapt to the existing immunity. In the future, the development of vaccine technology will lower our dependency on such predictions. Instead of ‘chasing mutants’, we will need to create quality vaccines and immunize the population," the researcher said.

The existing shots work to this day and provide the opportunity to prepare the human immune system for contact with new SARS-CoV-2 strains, Pavel Volchkov, lab head at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, told the paper.

"Who in the world can create a vaccine in 2-3 days? The answer is nobody except your adaptive system. Even if the vaccine is honed to a certain variant of the virus, for example, the Wuhan one, it will also be able to detect similar "silhouettes" of the virus, for example, Delta SARS-CoV-2. And due to the vaccine, our immune system will do it quickly. It won’t take 7-9 days, like it does during the first meeting with the pathogen, it will take hours. So the virus won’t be able to multiply in the body," Volchkov explained.


Vedomosti: Russian banks record rise in cyber attacks on their systems

Major Russian banks, Sberbank and VTB, are documenting mounting attempts by cyber criminals to attack their IT infrastructure, Vedomosti reports. Sberbank detected about 100 daily attacks on its systems and services, a bank representative told the paper, with the number of DDoS attacks quadrupling in January-April 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.

There may be several explanations for this surge in cyber attacks, Alexey Lukatsky, a security expert with Cisco, told the paper. Firstly, the systems of pinpointing attacks that banks introduced last year due to new regulations have changed. Secondly, groups specializing in bank attacks lowered their activity in 2020 due to the lockdowns that prevented them from working with the same efficiency. The fraudsters turned to other sectors in 2020 and returned to banks in 2021. It is also possible that there is no growth as such, and that it is proportionate to the improvement of the bank IT systems, Lukatsky explained: the more services there are, the more opportunities there are to attack.

However, banks are rather well protected today from the main threat - direct withdrawal of funds, Alexey Pavlov, Business Development Director of Solar JSOC, Rostelecom-Solar, assured, noting that at the same time, the attackers accelerated the process of exploiting new vulnerabilities, which carries serious risks for the financial sphere.

While it is difficult for hackers to reach the bank’s money, the situation with their clients is worse. According to the Bank of Russia, over 10 bln rubles (about $136.2 mln) were stolen from bank clients in 2020, with the Internet and phone calls serving as the main channels of bank fraud.

Some 4.2 bln rubles ($57.2 mln) were stolen from Russian citizens through phishing, with hackers using websites posing as legitimate online sources requiring their credit card data. Many people fell for this trick, handing over access to their account and thus they lost money, a representative of Sberbank told the paper.

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