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Press review: Why ASEAN is moving closer to Russia and US may soften sanctions policy

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, July 7th
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi
© Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: ASEAN countries see Russia as counterweight to balance US, China

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi were focused on boosting both countries’ strategic partnership ties. In particular, the parties discussed Russian deliveries of military equipment, and prospects for the production of the Sputnik V vaccine in Indonesia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Head of the Southeast Asia Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies Dmitry Mosyakov pointed out that "ASEAN countries traditionally pursued a policy of balancing between the United States and China". "However, it’s become difficult to maintain such an approach amid rising tensions between the two powers. Under the current situation, Southeast Asian countries seek more room for maneuver. They counted on Japan, Australia, and India but the three countries are part of the Quad together with the US, and are moving towards establishing a military and political union. Russia, in contrast, can act as some kind of an independent arbitrator that supports Southeast Asian countries’ vision of the future of the Asia-Pacific region," the expert noted.

"The US largely relies on a military and political alliance, and the containment of China, while ASEAN members, as can be seen from the bloc’s meetings held in 2020 and before the pandemic, sought to broaden the horizons of economic cooperation, and create a vast free trade zone. That said, it’s crucial for them to find support for their position," the analyst explained.

Naturally, Moscow would like to expand its presence in the region. This concerns, first and foremost, defense cooperation. There are some difficulties as far as Indonesia goes because US sanctions made Jakarta abandon its plans to purchase Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35 fighters hoping for discounts on US aircraft. However, Washington offered no discounts and perhaps, the contract with Russia will be brought back to the table for discussion, Mosyakov speculated.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington may soften its policy of sanctions

US President Joe Biden plans to ease Washington’s sanction drive and hold more consultations with American allies when it comes to imposing restrictions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, citing the Wall Street Journal. Nearly six months have passed since Biden took office but Washington’s policy of sanctions has not changed much. However, experts do expect changes, primarily in relation to Iran.

The sanctions have failed to change the regimes in Venezuela and North Korea. In Iran, radical conservatives came to power following a new round of tensions with the United States. It is still unclear, how the possible new strategy would help the US advance its aspirations.

Washington is unlikely to significantly influence the above-mentioned countries but it will definitely be able to make cooperation with them more fruitful. However, for a start, the US president will have to convince the American people - first and foremost, the Congress, - that these sanctions have turned out to be counterproductive.

"The US has always used sanctions, and will continue to do that. It is a convenient tool as long as the dollar remains the global currency. It would be stupid not to take advantage of it. However, at the same time, Washington may somehow streamline its sanctions. The reason is that there has been some confusion because restrictions are introduced at every given opportunity, and the development of the legislative mechanism ties the government’s hands altogether, making it difficult to lift sanctions, which are initially a flexible tool," Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev pointed out.

Certain steps have already been taken in that direction. Biden refrained from obstructing the launch of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, Iran, and Syria was eased. Some moves still draw criticism, including the lifting of personal sanctions on a number of former Iranian government officials. However, such a step shows that instead of the wish to punish, the US will now be guided by the desire to influence foreign officials.


Izvestia: "Putin’s remarks greatly boosted my spirits," jailed Russian pilot says

Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence at the Danbury federal prison in Connecticut, in the United States, is hopeful that he will be able to return to his home country soon. His optimism got a boost following a meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Joe Biden of the United States, where the prisoner swap issue was touched upon, Yaroshenko said in a written interview with Izvestia.

According to him, "things concerning the return of Russian nationals jailed in the US got moving, and the leaders discussed this topic."

"I was glad to hear, how accurate our President Vladimir Putin was in his remarks about me when speaking with an NBC News reporter. I have been saying for years that my case and Washington’s actions against me should be cited as an example of how the United States violates international law, conventions, pacts, human rights, and the rights of prisoners," Yaroshenko added.

He noted that there were several ways to exchange and bring a country’s national back home, including specific swaps, pardons issued by the presidents of Russia and the US, court rulings, and the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

Yaroshenko believes that there is a slim chance that a possible prisoner exchange won’t include him, given how the Russian authorities made unilateral gestures of goodwill, returning jailed US nationals home in the hope that Washington would respond with positive steps. "However, I do hope and pray that it won’t happen like that, with all that my family and me have been through in more than 11 years after the US authorities abducted me. Moreover, given the statements and remarks about me and the all-around support that our leadership showed in recent years," the jailed pilot added.


Izvestia: Russian ruble gets little support from growing oil prices

Russia’s ruble has once again found itself at a disadvantage. The dollar crossed the 74-ruble mark on July 6, reaching its highest level since mid-May. However, there seem to be no fundamental drivers behind the rise, particularly amid growing oil prices. Seasonal factors are believed to be the reason for the ruble’s current decline, as well as the Finance Ministry’s decision to purchase foreign currency for the National Wealth Fund. Still, experts believe that the Russian currency will strengthen with time, Izvestia reports.

Oil prices have risen to $75 per barrel, and the lack of the ruble’s reaction to such an increase was surprising. According to Director General of the Chatex P2P exchanger and cryptocurrency wallet Michael Ross-Johnson, the authorities are deliberately pursuing a weaker ruble policy because a strong ruble can only harm the Russian economy in a crisis period, since exports and energy sales are one of the key sources of revenue for the budget.

"No one takes artificial measures to maintain the exchange rate, but they benefit from it, and this is why nothing is being done to change things," Chief Economist at the Expert RA rating agency Anton Tabakh noted.

According to Finam Analyst Anna Zaitseva, the Finance Ministry increases currency purchases to prevent the ruble from strengthening too much ,and when oil prices go down, it sells foreign currency, supporting the ruble. "Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank are artificially keeping the ruble undervalued, although this has a certain benefit for Russian exporters and for the budget as a whole," she said. However, in the expert’s view, a trend towards a stronger ruble will prevail before the end of the year, boosted by the Central Bank’s tightened monetary policy.

One thing that is clear right now is that the ruble’s exchange rate is getting increasingly unpredictable. Global financial markets became more chaotic over the past year and currency fluctuations are not the only example.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Sputnik V vaccine trials on teens kick off in Russia

The first group of children and teenagers participating in the trials of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine have received their first shots. A total of 100 kids aged between 12 and 17 will get vaccinated, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Earlier, all children underwent medical check-ups and passed PCR coronavirus tests to make sure that they don’t have any contraindications to vaccination, and did not have COVID-19. "We had chosen these kids long before the trials began, conducting medical examinations first. Doctors will continue to observe them for a year," said Moscow’s Chief Pediatrician Ismail Osmanov, who heads the Bashlyayeva Children’s Hospital, where 11 teenagers have been vaccinated. "The Sputnik V jab that was given to the kids is different from the one that the adults receive as its strength is reduced tenfold," he added.

According to Osmanov, more than 500 children and teenagers were willing to take part in the trials, so doctors had to choose. Everyone was checked thoroughly to make sure there are no medical contraindications such as allergies or intense chronic diseases. The teens will spend three days after vaccination in isolated wards, and then will be able to return home though doctors will regularly invite them for check-ups. Similarly, the kids will spend three more days in medical wards after they get the second vaccine dose. More volunteers will soon replace the first vaccinated ones.

The research also involves experts from the Gamaleya center, the vaccine’s developer. In order to figure out, how safe and effective Sputnik V is for teenagers, research has been launched at two leading Moscow children’s hospitals. Fifty kids and teens will receive vaccine shots at each of the facilities. The third phase trials, involving 250 people, will begin in late summer. Only after the entire trial process is over, a decision will be made on the mass vaccination of teenagers.

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