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Press review: Biden takes swipe at Russia from ODNI and will the Armenian-Azeri truce hold

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, July 29th
US President Joe Biden EPA-EFE/Oliver Contreras/POOL
US President Joe Biden
© EPA-EFE/Oliver Contreras/POOL

Izvestia: Russia, US agree to create working groups on strategic stability

The US Department of State has described the Russian-US strategic stability consultations, the first meeting on arms control after the Geneva summit, as "professional and substantive." The Russian Foreign Ministry called the talks in the Swiss city "businesslike and conscious." The next round of these consultations will take place in late September, and until that moment, the sides will be in contact unofficially, preparing topics for expert-level working groups. Political scientists questioned by Izvestia believe that their creation could indicate that these consultations were successful, since this is the first step towards a permanent negotiating mechanism.

"They [the working groups] could focus on working out in-depth issues - without that nothing can be achieved," said Nikolai Sokov, a leading researcher at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP). "I believe that both sides are well-aware of this and a permanent mechanism will be created. It should be noted that all talks since 1969 have been held in rounds for several months. Only such effort can yield fruit."

An important issue is how to assess the potential of other nuclear powers. While the US insists on China joining, Russia seeks the participation of the United Kingdom and France in the arms control talks. The US, in its turn, demands the reduction of tactical nuclear warheads, which are aimed at striking the enemy’s home front: Russia has more of these armaments than the US. Moscow is ready to discuss this issue but on one condition. A high-ranking diplomatic source told Izvestia that at first Washington "should withdraw these armaments from the territory of five European countries" (NATO member-states - Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Germany).

According to Dmitry Stefanovich, a research fellow at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the sides are likely to reach some agreements, including politically binding ones, in the next two years. In 2026, New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) will expire and in 2024, Russia and the US will hold their presidential elections. Consultations alone won’t be enough for reaching new agreements, the expert pointed out. "For this, full-fledged talks are needed with particular guidelines of top officials and target parameters of future agreements (and better - treaties). Holding consultations too often won’t help - most likely, a rhythmical process is needed, with familiar pauses for domestic interdepartmental coordination," he said.


Kommersant: Tensions again flare up on Azerbaijani-Armenian border

Armenia and Azerbaijan de-facto resumed combat actions on the border overnight to July 28. Both sides reported that grenade launchers and mortars were used. But by 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning they had reached a new ceasefire deal with Moscow’s mediation. Experts questioned by Kommersant in Moscow, Baku and Yerevan are sure that there is only one way to avoid such tensions in the future - through immediate delimitation and demarcation of the border established after the second Karabakh war. However, there are doubts if the parties are ready to come to terms on such a sensitive issue.

Thanks to Russia, the overnight incident did not morph into a long, drawn-out escalation. Both Baku and Yerevan admitted that the agreement on reinstating the ceasefire was reached with the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping forces’ command, the newspaper says. A source in Armenia’s news outlet writes that Russia’s forces took a disputable section of the border under control.

Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan believes that Baku is deliberately stirring up tensions in order to force the Armenian leadership to sign a peace deal and create an extraterritorial corridor to Azerbaijan’s enclave Nakhchivan via Armenia’s Syunik province.

"Baku’s goal is to make sure that Yerevan signs a document, which could be portrayed in the country as Armenia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s borders. On the other hand, by opening communication lines in the region, Baku means only laying down a corridor to Nakhchivan," Iskandaryan said. "However, this runs counter to Armenia’s interests, which insists on opening all communication lines. Armenia is resisting, while Azerbaijan is trying to overcome this resistance. From this, the shootouts on the border and media pressure emanates. This will continue."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Biden encourages intelligence with cutting remark against Russia

US President Joe Biden slipped a cutting remark to the intelligence community on Russian leader Vladimir Putin, claiming that he had "nuclear weapons, oil wells and nothing else." He alleged that Moscow was in real trouble, which made it even more dangerous. Biden also accused Russia of trying to meddle in the 2022 US mid-term elections by spreading "misinformation." In its turn, the Kremlin noted that the US is Russia’s opponent, not a partner.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that Biden’s remark is important given that the US president met with Putin most recently on June 16 in Geneva. Many experts described the outcome of this meeting as a sign of a thaw in bilateral relations. However, Biden’s speech conflicts with this evaluation.

Experts confirm that the idea about Russia’s dependence on raw materials is somehow exaggerated although it does live up to facts. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, the share of the oil and gas sector in Russia’s GDP in 2020 hit 15.2%, even though a year earlier it stood at 19.2%. Although raw materials are Russia’s key exports, still the national economy is not based on them alone. In certain fields, Russia is very strong.

Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev notes that it was a big mistake for US diplomacy to write Russia off as a rival. "Similar remarks have been made by Biden at the highest level, as well as by the [46th] president’s former boss Barack Obama. He called Russia a weak regional power and stated that its economy was in tatters," Rogulev said. The expert highlighted that Biden delivered his speech to the intelligence community. "Certainly, the president cheered them up and said that they are the best and their enemy is weak. Meanwhile, US intelligence has not made any great achievements over the past years," he pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israel surprised by Russia’s displeasure over Syria air raids

The topic of Russia is bound to be on the agenda of an upcoming visit by a group of advisers from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s administration to Washington. According to Israeli experts, there are certain disagreements between Russia and Israel with regards to Syria. Israeli officials assert that the Russian side is sending unclear signals expressing its discontent with the IDF’s air raids.

Last week, rumors began to circulate that Moscow won’t put up anymore with the daily shelling of the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) positions by Israel and will provide technical assistance to Damascus. According to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Russian side allegedly came to this conclusion after analyzing Washington’s stance. Russian-US talks along special channels following the Putin-Biden summit made Moscow think that the White House does not approve of the scale and intensity of Israel’s involvement in Syria.

The signs that Moscow is allegedly changing the rules of the game appeared several times during the past week. The Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria repeatedly reported that the SAA managed to thwart the IDF’s attacks on various parts of the country, though earlier it seemed that Moscow had silently agreed to such incursions.

Sources in Israel’s intelligence community think that these reports may be a tactical rather than a strategic move. According to them, this is related to "Russia’s image and its commercial interests." "The Russians want to prove to the world and especially to their potential clients that their systems work well and are capable of intercepting Israeli missiles," the sources said.

A high-ranking Israeli official quoted by Al-Monitor said this Russian claim is unclear on all sorts of levels. First of all, this is erroneous information: the rate of interceptions is low and the systems are run by Syrians, not Russians. Additionally, according to him, the Russian-Israeli deconfliction mechanism "is in place and working properly."

Off the record, the representatives of Israel’s agencies say that this way Moscow is possibly trying to improve its positions in the region after the change of administrations in the US and Israel, as well as in Iran. The political opponents of the current Israeli government point out that if changes in Russia’s policy in Syria are true, this means that tight contact with the Russian side, the most important strategic asset which Israel could actively use when Netanyahu was the prime minister, is now lost.


Vedomosti: S7 group to launch new low-cost airline in summer 2022

Russia’s largest private airline S7 has officially announced the launch of a new regional low-cost airline with its first flights scheduled for July 2022, co-owner and chair of the S7 board of directors Tatyana Fileva told journalists.

The route network of the new airline will be successively expanded. Twenty-two destinations will be opened in 2022, then 42 routes in 2023, and 66 - in 2024. It is possible that airports of Omsk, Chelyabinsk and Kazan will be involved since according to S7, the air service’s accessibility is very low in these cities. Air service will be provided both to Russian regions and abroad, for example, to CIS countries. The new air carrier will become part of the S7 group.

The chair of the board of directors estimated that the volume of investments during the initial period will amount to 2.5 bln-3 bln rubles (over $33 mln) including the lease of aircraft. Expectations are that the investments will be recouped in four years. The ticket price tag will depend on particular airports. The company also plans to ask the Ministry of Transport for subsidies for regional flights.

NRA corporate rating analyst Alla Yurova reiterates that in 2019, the total passenger flow of Omsk, Chelyabinsk and Kazan airports amounted to 6.5 mln people, in 2020 it decreased to 4.3 mln due to the pandemic. "The plans on the passenger flow of the new company, perhaps, take into account the growth of transit traffic at key airports, shaped by the flights of the future low-cost airline," the expert said.

According to her, the key rivals of the new airline will be those seeking to expand their low-cost segment, for example, Smartavia and Red Wings. Executive director of the Aviaport agency Oleg Panteleyev agrees with her, saying that "the new low-cost airline will compete not as much with Pobeda, which actively flies from Moscow, but with regional companies which fly using federal and regional subsidies."

General Director of the Infoline-Analitiki agency Mikhail Burmistrov called the S7 low-cost airline plans for passenger flow too optimistic and not quite possible to implement with a fleet of 24 planes. The expert also notes that the process of developing the route network is not going to be quick and the four-year investment recoupment period looks unrealistic, even not counting the new waves of the pandemic.

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