Media: Taliban moving closer to Kabul
The Taliban movement (outlawed in Russia) claimed more victories on Thursday. In particular, news came that it had captured Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities. According to the US media, Washington does not expect the current Afghan government to hold out for more than three months, Kommersant writes.
Russian expert on Afghanistan Alexander Knyazev believes that even if the Taliban take Kabul, it won’t necessarily mean the end to the standoff. "Let’s remember the late 1990s, when the Taliban seized about 90% of the country’s territory but their government pyramid started to collapse. One mullah was ruling in Herat, another in Kandahar, and another one in Kabul. The system was unable to govern the country as a whole," the expert noted. "At the same time, there are reasonable people among the movement’s leaders, who are inclined to hold talks as they understand that their monopoly rule is impossible. However, their position is weak at the moment because the military wing is making great progress," he added.
It seems that the Taliban have set a target of taking Kabul by September 27, which will mark the 25th anniversary of the city’s seizure (or surrender, to be exact) back in 1996, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Sotnikov pointed out. "Given their current pace, the Taliban indeed can capture Kabul within the next six weeks, particularly because police officers and military servicemen are surrendering without a fight," the expert told Izvestia.
One of the reasons why Afghan troops are fleeing fighting is because they lack motivation and have little trust in Ashraf Ghani’s government, the political analyst explained. According to Sotnikov, the United States is unlikely to slow down the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan only to keep Kabul safe. "Washington may increase air support to the Ashraf Ghani government to make sure that the Taliban don’t seize Kabul too soon. As for Russia, I completely rule out the possibility that Russia will somehow try to stop the Taliban’s progress," the expert concluded.
Izvestia: Nord Stream 2 encounters more resistance in European Union
Debate over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project continues in the European Parliament. According to MEP Gunnar Beck, some of his colleagues seek to prevent German-Russian cooperation from growing. Meanwhile, experts are confident that the EU needs Nord Stream 2 to ensure its energy security, Izvestia writes.
"The gas market is highly politicized nowadays. Germany’s Greens, Poland and the Baltic states have always opposed Nord Stream 2 and gas transportation, saying that it will soon be possible to shift to renewable energy. But now they are the ones shouting the loudest about gas shortages in Europe. Where is the logic here?" German political scientist Alexander Rahr said. Beck, in turn, noted that Nord Stream 2 was a great success for Russia’s economic diplomacy. However, in his words, if the Green Party wins Germany’s parliamentary election this fall, attempts will continue to put a spoke in the project’s wheels.
The US also continues to politicize the project. On August 11, Republicans blocked the Senate from confirming dozens of nominations for the Department of State in a bid to make the Washington administration impose new sanctions on Nord Stream 2. However, Rahr emphasizes that those in Europe who have "a commercial view of things" do understand that they need to ensure gas supplies.
Head of the Analysis Unit at the National Energy Security Fund Alexander Pasechnik, in turn, pointed out that Nord Stream 2 would help ensure Europe’s energy security in the future. "The more there are pipelines, the lower the transit risks. That said, Russia is actually improving Europe’s energy security through new gas pipelines such as Nord Stream 2," the expert stressed. Pasechnik believes that there are chances that the project will be put into operation before the end of the year. Gas pumping is underway on its first leg, which makes it clear that the system is getting ready for an early launch.
Izvestia: Iota coronavirus strain unlikely to outpace Delta variant
The Iota coronavirus strains, which carry a high mortality rate according to the media, can indeed spread faster and pose more danger than other mutations. However, experts are certain that it won’t outpace the Delta variant, Izvestia writes.
Head of the genome engineering lab at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Pavel Volchkov believes that there is no reason to expect the Iota strain to be especially dangerous. According to him, this virus variant cannot compare to the Delta strain, which has driven almost all other mutations from Russia and is actively spreading in Europe and the United States.
"Iota is quite an ordinary strain. It is indeed spreading more effectively than the Wuhan variant but it cannot compare with the Delta mutation in terms of contagiousness. It can be seen from other countries’ open sequencing data, regularly posted on monitoring websites. As for the mortality rate, it is a bit higher compared to the Wuhan strain. However, the Delta variant’s mortality rate is even higher and the variant itself is more contagious, which makes it more dangerous. The Delta mutation is number one in all aspects and no other strain can compete with it at the moment," Volchkov pointed out.
The Iota variant has not spread much since it was first detected last year, so it can hardly be considered as especially dangerous, Head of the Research and Clinical Center for Precision and Regenerative Medicine at Kazan Federal University Albert Rizvanov added.
"The ultimate measure for how dangerous a virus strain is its transmission among the population. The Iota variant was discovered in 2020, cases continue to be recorded, but it hasn’t become a widely-spread strain. It means that it’s not very transmissible," the expert noted.
Vedomosti: Oil production to return to pre-pandemic level in 2022
OPEC has improved its outlook on oil and condensate production in 2021 and 2022, Vedomosti writes, citing an OPEC report published on August 12. In 2021, average output in non-OPEC countries is expected to grow to 64 mln barrels per day, reaching 66.94 mln barrels per day in 2022.
Oil production trends in 2022 will largely depend on demand, Natural Resources Senior Director at Fitch Ratings Dmitry Marinchenko pointed out. According to him, OPEC+ will continue to regulate oil output in order to prevent a significant imbalance on the market. He noted that "the number of active oil rigs is growing in the United States amid high oil prices, which is expected to lead to a rise in production." Russian companies will also need to step up their drilling activities and it will be possible to take output to the pre-pandemic level of 11.5 mln barrels per day and even higher, the expert stressed.
Anton Usov, who heads KPMG’s international practice on providing services to oil and gas companies, believes that the potential restoration of oil production, offset by rising demand, should stabilize prices at about the current level. "An oil surplus is possible but not in the short term because investment in oil production has been reduced," the expert emphasized.
Vaccination campaigns and efforts to contain coronavirus mutations will have a significant impact on the oil market, Consulting Department Partner at Deloitte Joerg Dorler noted. If vaccines prove effective against virus mutations, the global economy will continue to recover and oil consumption will return to the pre-pandemic level in 2020, the analyst said.
Izvestia: Russia records 40% rise in marriages in 2021
The number of marriages in Russia rose by 40% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the same period last year, Izvestia writes, citing data from the Justice Ministry. According to experts, pent-up demand is the reason for the increase in marriage activity, as tough coronavirus restrictions were in effect last year.
Many decided to put off their weddings last year because formal ceremonies and restaurant receptions were banned during lockdown. "What we see now is pent-up demand," Professor with the Labor and Social Policy Department at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Alexander Shcherbakov noted. "Coronavirus restrictions affected registry offices in 2020 and the number of marriages went down. In 2021, we are likely to return to pre-pandemic figures," he added.
As marriages are rising, the number of wedding celebrations is growing, too. People are now more inclined to celebrate weddings, sometimes on a grander scale than before the pandemic, said Ruslan Loim, who organizes and hosts business and entertainment events.
Meanwhile, more people are also getting divorced now, according to the Justice Ministry’s data.
"A rise in marriages is always accompanied by a growing number of divorces," Shcherbakov explained. "It has to do with psychological aspects. People seek to try living a family life but it often times leads to frustration. Such behavior is more typical of youngsters. At the same time, people tend to get married later nowadays, which results in more remarriages, and according to statistics, a remarriage is more likely to end in a divorce," the expert concluded.
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